Ever since the colossal satellite screens of Zoo TV first crash landed into our consciousness in the early 90s, U2 have consistently pushed the technological envelope to the very edge whether that be by erecting 100 foot LED screens, giant lemons, cocktail sticks or claws.
Now, they’ve made the much hyped Las Vegas Sphere – a $2.3bn, 18,000 seater sci-fi structure which boasts 160,000 speakers and the biggest wraparound LED screen you’ve ever seen in your life – their new home for the next few months. They’ll perform 25 dates at the venue through to December, with the Sphere’s future to include sports events, music performances and more. Plans for a twin venue in London’s Stratford have advanced despite conxerns about light pollution: no issue here, mind.
The buzz around this venue has swirled like a desert sandstorm in recent months as giant space helmets, the Stars and Stripes, baby faces and even the moon have been projected on to the outside of this breathtaking forum, which is situated perfectly alongside the blinding lights of the Las Vegas strip.
Entering the inner sanctum of the Sphere for the first time and taking in the sheer scale of the screen itself, truly takes your breath away.
And of course despite the immense pressure on tonight’s opening show, brimming with a who’s who of stars including everyone from Bryan Cranston and Matt Damon to the likes of Paul McCartney, Jeff Bezos and LeBron James, U2 can always be relied upon to deliver a solid state of the art stage show. They pull off a dazzling series of technological tricks right from the outset as whirring drones whizz past the audience while everything from giant helicopters, falling letters, widescreen desert landscapes and even a projection of the Sphere itself come hurtling towards the audience.
The first half as expected is dominated by hits from ‘Achtung Baby’ with ‘Zoo Station”s thudding intro kicking proceedings off nicely as Bono – returning as his Fly alter-ego – slowly spins on a tiny turntable while The Edge, Adam Clayton and stand-in drummer Bram van den Berg (covering for Larry Mullen Jr. while he facing back surgery) colour in the sonics superbly.
Once the band roll into ‘Even Better Than The Real Thing’, a dizzying collage display in the style of Peter Blake featuring everyone from Elvis, to Nicolas Cage to The Queen’s Gambit actress Anya Taylor-Joy, ascends up the screen.
Despite the early onslaught of breathtaking visuals, surprisingly the band almost abandon them for a good middle section of the show with the likes of ‘Rattle And Hum”s ‘All I Want Is You’, ‘Desire’ and ‘Angel Of Harlem’, which Bono dedicates to Macca, being gently slipped into the set.
Even Achtung’s double punch of ‘Acrobat’ and the outstanding ‘Ultra Violet’ is devoid of any giant backdrop as the focus becomes squarely placed on all four members of the band.
Of course Larry Mullen Jr’s absence from the line up “for the first time since 1978” is clearly noticeable tonight particularly on stadium slaying numbers like ‘Where The Streets Have No Name’ where his trademark drumstick clacking ahead of the spine tingling intro was a staple in U2’s set for many years. Van den Berg, who is celebrating his birthday tonight, has very big shoes to fill and he knows it. But he does a sterling job of picking up the baton from the long time drummer and co-founding member.
Wrapping up the show with ‘Elevation’ and new Blondie-cribbed single Atomic City’, Bono channels Elvis with a white Vegas style dinner jacket, swaggering against a giant cinematic backdrop of the bustling strip itself.
Reaching its cinematic climax, it feels like the band, venue and audience are transported to the vast depths of the Vegas desert itself as they rattle off ‘Where The Streets Have No Name’, ‘With Or Without You’ and ‘Beautiful Day’. Edge previously pointed out that U2 are taking the live concert experience “to the next level” and this opening night does a fine balancing act of doing just that while also ensuring their music remains very much at the forefront.
And this is just the start of a stunning residency which will only continue to blossom with each passing night in this city of blinding lights.
‘Even Better Than The Real Thing’
‘One’/’Purple Rain’/’Love Me Tender’
‘Until The End Of The World’
‘Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses’
‘Tryin’ To Throw Your Arms Around The World’
‘All I Want Is You’
‘Desire’/’Love Me Do’
‘Angel Of Harlem’/’Into The Mystic’/’Dancing In The Moonlight’
‘Love Rescue Me’
‘Ultraviolet (Light My Way)’
‘Love Is Blindness’
‘Where The Streets Have No Name’
‘With Or Without You’
‘Beautiful Day’/’Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)’/’Blackbird’