(Photo courtesy of: Wired) “U2 performs ‘Zoo Station’ as the first song of their debut performance at the Sphere.”
Irish rockers, U2, took the stage for the first time since 2019 on Sept. 29. The band are performing a residency, “U2:UV: Achtung Baby Live” at the Sphere, a brand-new venue in Las Vegas.
The Sphere is a one-of-a-kind venue. The entire exterior of the building is a giant LED screen, and the whole back wall of the spherical venue is also a screen. The band performs on a small stage, which is also an LED screen.
To combat audio issues typically encountered in spherical venues, every seat of the Sphere has its own speaker system, allowing for studio-quality audio in every seat.
The night began with a DJ set from PAULi, an English musician/model. PAULi is best known for their stint as a member of Harry Styles’ band during the Love on Tour shows. Their set included a mix of classic rock tracks, more modern pop and some classic R&B. Shortly before U2 took the stage, PAULi played Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2 U”, a tribute to the artist, who passed away this summer.
U2 entered the stage shortly after 8:30 PM local time, and the crowd’s anticipation grew. The show opened with “Zoo Station”, the first track from 1991’s “Achtung Baby”, which was played in its entirety. However, they did not play the album in order, opting instead to recreate the setlist of their famed Zoo TV Tour from 1992-93.
After playing eight straight songs from the aforementioned album, the band played four tracks from 1988’s “Rattle & Hum”. Following the first of these, “All I Want is You”, Bono took a moment to introduce Bram van den Berg, who is filling in for drummer Larry Mullen Jr. for the duration of the residency. Mullen is sitting out of the shows due to ongoing medical operations on his back and arms. Bono had previously cheekily referenced van den Berg’s presence before the third song of the night.
As the band played the intro to “Even Better Than the Real Thing”, Bono, in character as his alter ego, The Fly, introduced his guitar player and bassist.“I know who you are. You’re the Edge! And you must be Adam Clayton!” He said. He then turned to the drum kit. “And who the hell are you?” he asked before singing the first verse.
After playing three more “Rattle & Hum” tracks, they then played the final four tracks from “Achtung Baby”, before taking a break.
The encore opened with 2000’s “Elevation”, before the band tore into “Atomic City”, their new single released on the same day of the show. After playing 2004’s hit single “Vertigo” and a pair of songs from their legendary 1987 album “The Joshua Tree”, the night closed with one of their biggest hits, “Beautiful Day”.
Unlike most concerts, however, the music was not the primary focus of the evening. Instead, much of the attention was placed on the immersive visual experience of the Sphere.
When fans entered the venue, the walls appeared to be solid concrete. As “Zoo Station” began, the walls “opened” and revealed massive video screens.
During “The Fly”, the screens turned into a giant message board, with random words flashing before an optical illusion made it appear that the roof was caving in.
As “Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses” came to a close, a single balloon appeared on the screen, as a rope of bedsheets fashioned into a swing emerged from the stage. During the next song, “Trying to Throw Your Arms Around the World”, Bono brought a female fan onstage to swing as he serenaded her.
The encore brought perhaps the greatest visual spectacles of all.
“Atomic City” was accompanied by images of the Las Vegas cityscape, while “Where the Streets Have No Name” featured a desert with a white flag, representing the common U2 motif of surrender, especially poignant as the band released an album titled “Songs of Surrender” in March.
For the final song, “Beautiful Day”, the screen showed a film of endangered animals, all of which are native to Nevada. The visuals brought some fans to tears and were a complete surprise.
Unlike most U2 tours, which have taken place in massive stadiums, the Sphere is a completely closed off environment. U2 were able to practice in complete privacy, so nobody saw any visuals or knew what songs would be played until the moment the first show began.
It is safe to say that everyone present at the Sphere had an incredible night, and the band still has 21 shows left in the residency to keep the good times alive.
Final grade: A-