Given U2’s reputation for pushing technical and creative boundaries with its live concerts, it seemed fitting that the band opened Friday’s anticipated Sphere in Las Vegas with its most ambitious and transportive live show yet: a thrilling live performance and visual odyssey that unfolds on Sphere’s 160,000-square-foot wraparound LED display.
Sphere, built for an estimated $2.3 billion, is the big gamble of MSG magnate James Dolan and Sphere Entertainment Co. (which was formed in April to combine Sphere and MSG Networks) on the future of entertainment. At 100 meters high and 160 meters wide, the venue is now the largest spherical structure in the world, with the largest wraparound LED displays inside and out. Inside, the wraparound LED display supports 16K high resolution, meaning it delivers images so lifelike that it’s as if you’re no longer in a Las Vegas venue, but transported into the visual content – something U2 used to do. made great impact during the two-hour show. Meanwhile, an all-new immersive sound system from Berlin-based Holoplot has been configured with approximately 160,000 speakers to deliver the experience to all seats in Sphere’s challenging design.
Before an audience of an estimated 18,000 people, Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton and Bram van den Berg (instead of bandmate Larry Mullen Jr.) used these abilities to debut their new residency, U2: UV Achtung Baby Live in Spherean experience that includes all the songs from the Irish band’s 1991 album Achtung Baby, such as ‘One’ and ‘Mysterious Ways’, as well as classic hits such as ‘Where the Streets Have No Name’ and ‘With or Without You’. U2 also took the opportunity to debut its new song ‘Atomic City’.
From the opening performance of “Zoo Station” – where the LED display appears behind the band like a concrete wall that slowly breaks open as the show begins – U2 and the band’s decades-long creative director Willie Williams used the LED display of the sphere as a canvas for a visual art series, with segments created by John Gerrard, Marco Brambilla, Es Devlin, Williams with Treatment Studio and Industrial Light & Magic. These experiences include placing viewers in the desert and on water, immersing them in collages and using the display to flash text messages. The set design resembles a turntable, inspired by the artwork of long-time U2 collaborator and producer Brian Eno. Meanwhile, the music was mixed during the performance by the band’s decades-long sound engineer Joe O’Herlihy.
The third song in the show, ‘Even Better Than the Real Thing’, features a compact visual collage created by artist and director Brambilla about spectacle, using sampled film clips of Elvis Presley, and created using the AI tool Stable Diffusion . “It’s about the death of Elvis Presley, and it’s about the origins of the myth of Elvis Presley and also about the demise of Elvis Presley,” says Brambilla. The Hollywood Reporter of this segment. “It actually has a parallel storyline between the birth of Las Vegas out of the increasingly dense desert, and it goes through the eras of Las Vegas and eventually ends up in the kind of Disneyland version of Las Vegas that is now.
“I think the medium suits the concept,” he adds of the segment, which also creates a sense of movement in the audience as the image scrolls down. Sphere (the speed of the scroll required careful consideration, as movement on a screen of that size and resolution can easily overwhelm a viewer).
‘Even Better Than the Real Thing’ was followed by ‘Mysterious Ways’ before the pace effectively shifted for Bono’s moving rendition of ‘One’.
During the show, Bono took a moment to talk to Larry Mullen Jr. and said this was the first time U2 had performed without him since 1978, while also praising substitute Van den Berg, saying: “Let there be no mistake, there is only one Larry.” Mullen Jr.”
At other points in the show, Bono thanked the evening’s guests, including Sir Paul McCartney and Dr. Dre. He also remembered the late Jimmy Buffet, who died on September 1.
Late in the show there is a striking segment created by VFX house Industrial Light & Magic, owned by Lucasfilm, which uses the LED display to create an image of Las Vegas from the point of view of an audience member standing in the Sphere , but as if the walls had disappeared, revealing the famous skyline.
Other works include John Gerrard’s artwork ‘Surrender (for U2) 2023’, featuring a white flag formed from plumes of water vapor evaporating in a desert landscape. It is designed to point towards a world less dependent on fossil fuels.
Es Devlin’s “Nevada Ark” features sculptures of 26 endangered species, chosen from a list of 152 endangered species specific to the state of Nevada. The Ark is a development of Es’s Come Home Again installation commissioned by Cartier and located in the Tate Modern Garden in London.
Prior to the performance, recognized guests explored the newly opened “Zoo Station: A U2:UV Experience” at The Venetian, located next to Sphere. This exhibition includes a screening room with Dolby Atmos where guests can view documentary material about the Irish band.
These guests used a connecting corridor to enter Sphere, which features a huge atrium on the ground floor and bars and refreshments on each floor. The previously teased AI-powered robots did not appear in the lobby during this performance.
Friday night’s show was the first of U2’s 25 performances at Sphere, which will run through December.
Sphere Entertainment Co. bet big that it could use the new venue to usher in the next generation of entertainment and U2 gave it an exciting start. To do this it will then need to continue to attract innovative acts, such as U2, who will use Sphere’s canvas to create something dazzling and unique.
More broadly, Sphere’s model focuses on offering a range of content, including attracting Hollywood talent. Postcard from Earthh, the first film made for Sphere – directed by Black Swan helmer Darren Aronofsky – debuts October 6. Meanwhile, the LEDs on the exterior of the venue have already started displaying images, including promotional materials, that can be seen throughout Las Vegas. In fact, this week DreamWorks Animation became the first studio to use the “exosphere” for movie marketing, with imagery related to the upcoming film. Trolls unite.