I had an amazing opportunity to go see U2 perform in the Sphere in Las Vegas, Nevada last night. The event was called U2:UV Achtung Baby Live at Sphere, U2’s current residency. The band performed every song from their Achtung Baby album as well as throwing in some hits from past albums including War. We had the honor of being some of the first people to watch the performance of one of their newer songs, “Atomic City”, which was first performed on its debut in the Sphere in September of 2023.
U2, the Irish rock band from Dublin, has been around since 1976 and currently consists of members Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton and Bram van den Berg who is filling in for Larry Mullen Jr., who is recovering from surgery. Known as having some of the most memorable shows and consistently pushing the boundaries of live performance, U2 is dedicated to embracing the newest technology and innovative techniques to add to their shows. What better place to do that than the Sphere?
I’ve seen U2 in some of their biggest stadium shows the past two decades and at sold out festivals but this performance art took the band to a whole new level. The band took the stage at 8:35 PM to a packed crowd with “Zoo Station” and the full side one of Achtung Baby. Bono wore black jeans and a black leather jacket and two rosaries to accessorize. I hadn’t listened to the album in a long time and it was amazing to hear it live again especially one of my favorite U2 songs, “Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses.”
The Sphere is such a unique performance space and has become a striking landmark in Vegas. It’s the largest spherical structure in the world, composed of LED screens that wrap around the audience and audio quality like having your own headphones on, giving a highly immersive experience. The structure also possesses 4D capabilities like changing temperature, warm and cool breezes, and invoking scents.
The visuals and environmental conditions are inspired by musician and visual artist, Brian Eno’s turntable. The turntable is illuminated with bright alternating colors adapted by stage designers Stufish, Es Devlin and Willie Williams. The color of the stage and some of the lighting is controlled by a generative algorithm created by Brian Eno, producing a distinctive color palette for each show.
The show includes different commissioned visual art by different artists for different songs and portions of the performance. Marco Brambilla’s King Size is a tribute to the King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley, oscillating between persona and image and Vegas between reality and illusion. The work is a visualization of the birth of Las Vegas, the phenomenon of Elvis Presley and how their legacies have intertwined. The video sequence for the song “Even Better Than the Real Thing” features AI-generated Elvises.
Other visual art pieces in the show include Surrender (for U2) and Flare (for U2) by John Gerrard, both of which shine light on climate and energy issues in the world and Es Devlin’s Nevada Ark containing sculptures of 26 endangered species specific to the State of Nevada.
After side one of the album is complete there is an interlude of cover songs that the band performs including “All I Want Is You” and “Two Hearts Beat As One” with a piece of the Clash’s “Rock The Casbah” inserted in the middle. Bono introduced the band to the crowd and said that the only thing you needed to know about him was that he always wanted to be Joe Strummer before launching into “Don’t Dream It’s Over” by Crowded House.
The band finished side two of “The Baby” as Bono called the album and then did a six song encore of greatest hits. The visuals were stunning and during the final song “Beautiful Day” a mosaic of animals filled the sky in the Sphere and took my breath away.
This show was an absolute dream. I have seen thousands of performances as a music photographer and I was completely immersed and genuinely blown away. I could see this performance in this space every night. I sat in the 300 section and felt like I had the best bird’s eye view of all the visuals and performance. I would highly recommend anyone who is in Vegas finding a way to see the show. It’s worth the money and lived up to the hype in every single way.
The Sphere is attached to The Venetian Resort, hosting an Immersive fan portal called Zoo Station: A U2:UV Experience. Zoo Station allows fans to explore U2’s album “Achtung Baby” through interactive experiences. There is even an exclusive pop-up merchandise shop featuring new and never before seen merchandise and limited-edition products made exclusively for this experience.
U2 will be performing live from the Sphere this weekend for the Grammy’s as well. The U2:UV Achtung Baby Live at Sphere residency is running now through March 2nd.
While I was in Vegas Dead & Company also announced an upcoming residency in the space in addition to shows already scheduled by Phish. If you love jam bands this is going to be a once in a lifetime experience on the Vegas Strip.