I’m not really a Las Vegas person. I don’t gamble, I don’t love the desert, and I’m not in to high-end shopping, strip clubs, or whatever else Sin City is supposed to offer. To me it’s usually just a hot, crowded, series of smoke-filled rooms and broad streets I have to navigate through in search of vegan food (which they do have, but can be a journey to locate).
However, while in Vegas earlier this month on a business trip I managed to squeeze in (thanks boss) a Wednesday night side trip to see U2:UV at the Sphere, which was absolutely amazing, and worth a trip by itself whether you like Vegas or not. (They recently extended the residency so there is still time if you haven’t been yet).
Our seats were in one the 200s sections. There is General Admission on the floor, but if you’re doing that you need to be able to show up that morning to get wristbands by section, then very early to show up, so we passed. There are section 100 seats, coming up from the floor – but if you’re behind row 19 you’ll have section 200 overhanging over you and will miss lots of the screen. There are then 200, 300, and 400 seats – higher seats have great view of the stage but from farther away – so I think the 200 sections, central, not more than 20 rows back is where you want to be.
The stage looks like a turntable (specifically Brian Eno’s Turntable), but is also fitted with extensive lighting options, which they make more use of later in the set. In the early part of the set, there was a lot of experimentation with the video screens – forced perspective that makes the dome feel like a cube, or a cone, or an open air arena. Later they settled more into dense photo-realistic visuals.
The band as a whole was really engaged – Bono, Adam Clayton, and the Edge truly enjoying themselves, and super tight with fill-in drummer Bram van den Berg. (Oddly there was very little mention of Larry Mullen, Jr., other than to credit van den Berg with having studied as his feet and now become a master in his own right).
At one point Bono clearly called an audible to transition into “Love Me Tender” and threw the Edge for a loop for a minute, but it was all good fun.
I was a tremendous fan of U2 through multiple stages: the first three albums (plus Under a Blood Red Sky), the transitional period of Unforgettable Fire and A Sort of Homecoming, and the Americana period that kicked off with Joshua Tree and Rattle and Hum. Achtung Baby wasn’t necessarily my favorite U2 albums of all time, but the songs grounded the show, interspersed with some from Rattle and Hum and even Joshua Tree.
In introducing “Love, Rescue Me” Bono alluded to current world events and the role “Jewish mystic poet” Bob Dylan played in co-writing the song.
Turns out it was Aislinn’s birthday, so she joined them on stage for a swing around on the silks, a serenade, and a rendition of Happy Birthday.
It’s hard to get a sense from these videos of just how impressive the sound and multimedia technology of the Sphere is. At various points, on stage cameras on the band are projected floating above the stage, in front of whatever else is on-screen. It’s like the first time you ever saw Hi-Definition tv – they are so crisp and vibrant it can be hard to choose whether to focus on the stage or the screen.
Here you can see one of the times they lean into the capabilities on the stage itself, during Elevation. (The phone sound here is overly bass heavy – sound in real life was very well mixed).
During “Beautiful Day” the artwork (Es Devlin’s “Nevada Ark,” with endangered species from Nevada), starts to take on color – “See the world in green and blue.” The latter third or so of the performance relied less on some illusions driven by the screen – the cube, the open roof, the silo feeling, and more on texture and color.
Then they project the equivalent of the outside skyline, as though the sphere were a dome of glass you could see through, and begin to dismantle Las Vegas one building at a time, until you’re left with just the desert. (I’ve no idea if you’re facing the right direction in the Sphere for the skyline outside, but that’s the effect).
Josh Gerrard’s “Flag” Series in the Nevada desert is the backdrop for Where The Streets Have No Name.
It was truly a fantastic show: band in great spirits and shared energy, technology that is really impressive and opens up great opportunities to match music with mood and experience. Bono seemed at the end to want to play more – coming up to the mic as the house music came up and half starting to sing along with the exit tunes, then recognizing, grinner ear to ear, that his bandmates were done for the night, so taking a bow and exiting himself.
Two Wallaper* articles that make good reading on the art behind the band (I didn’t read any of this before going, to preserve the surprise, but clearly lots of thought and planning went into the digital stagecraft):
- U2 in Las Vegas: A Monumental Sonic and Visual Spectacle (Wallpaper*)
- How to conquer the Atomic City: the story behind U2 at the new Las Vegas Sphere (Wallpaper*)