U2 at the Sphere
U2 at the Sphere, Las Vegas – Even Better Than The Real Thing (25/10/2023)
U2 at the Sphere. Going to see U2 play overseas is going on a rock and roll pilgrimage. I had seen them live 25 times before, in Madrid, Amsterdam, Berlin, Cardiff and Glastonbury as well as my home city of London. But U2 in Vegas was a pilgrimage like no other. And the show a show like no other. The best I’ve ever seen. Even better than the real thing.
For a lesser band, there would be a danger of separating the experience of seeing the Sphere, an out of this world ground-breaking hi-tech arena, from the performance of the band. But not with U2, who have such a track record in breaking new audio visual ground (Zoo TV, Popmart, I&E/E&I) and are the perfect band to give The Sphere its opening residency.
Before going into the Sphere, you see its amazing structure many times from the outside both from the air and walking around Vegas. In a city not exactly unknown for outrageously spectacular buildings, the Sphere is a first amongst equals.
U2 at the Sphere, Las Vegas
Then, queueing at the merchandise stall outside the venue, the first sound of U2. The opening riff to Zoo Station. A goose pimple moment. The band are doing a sound check. Going inside, this is the plushest arena you could ever experience. About 1/3 of the dome is seating – around 18000 – 2/3 of the dome is screen. At first it doesn’t look like a screen It looks like the inside of a stone building. On closer examination it looks like the inside of the pantheon in Rome. Of course, the screen, which also contains all the speakers, comes alive later.
As do the band
When they appear on stage to a rapturous welcome, the actual stage set is remarkably stripped down, just 4 men, 2 guitars and a drum kit. No visible amplifiers, no speaker stacks. no props. Just back to basics U2. Supported by the spectacular display on the dome surrounding them.
And back to basics is exactly how they played the whole of the Achtung Baby album (in two halves with a musical interlude between), with the quality of The Edges guitar tone and Bonos’s splendid vocals cudng through the arena. Playing in a different order from the album, the open sequence of Zoo Station, The Fly and Even Better Than The Real Thing was simply exhilara:ng. The visuals around them were some:mes giant images of the band, changing to amazing graphics, occasionally the desert (when you really felt outside), and for their new song Atomic City the Vegas City scape, crea:ng the illusion of their stage being on The Strip.
Pausing for breath aeer the first half of Achtung Baby, the interlude with a few songs from Rattle Hum brought with it a major surprise. The guest appearance of Lady Gaga. Or in the words of Bono, “her Gaganess”. Their duet on All I Want is You was stunning, their voices intertwining perfectly. In a show of many highlights, this was a highlight. They then sang I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For together, segueing into Lady G’s Oscar winning song, Shallow. Completely magical. In this sec:on the stage had turned into a Brian Eno designed vinyl record deck – the only on-stage effect in the show.
Back to the second half of Achtung Baby, including the rarely played live but brilliant Acrobat , and a personal favourite , Love is Blindness. This didn’t disappoint with Edge’s totally moving guitar solos and the dome image startng with a clear blue sky, then black buterflies gradually appearing and star:ng to fill the screen, un:l at the end of the song the en:re screen was black. “love is drowning in a deep well, all the secrets and no-one to tell”.
How to follow that with an encore? We were treated to songs that would have made an excellent mini show on their own. As well as the single Atomic City, U2 played us Elevaton , Vertigo ,Where the Streets Have No Name, With or Without You, and (to close) Beautiful Day.
What a show, What a night. Unforgetable. Ass 18000 happy fans leave the Sphere, no one cared how long it took to queue to get back to The Strip. Our only worry was, will we ever see a show this good again?
3 December 2023.