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Monday, Feb. 26, 2024
The Observer

U2 messes with time, space and reality at the Las Vegas Sphere

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Anna Falk | The Observer


LAS VEGAS — No matter what you think of U2 or Las Vegas or James Dolan, the Sphere in Las Vegas is an incredible new attraction. This doesn’t mean the $2 billion concert venue covered almost wall to wall in LED screens is necessarily a smart investment. But the Sphere accomplishes a rare feat these days: it invokes pure awe.

I initially planned to take down some quick notes during U2’s "Achtung Baby" show on Saturday, but as soon as I stepped inside the walkway to the Sphere I tossed that idea aside. Trying to detail all the visual effects of the concert would have been stupid — because the whole thing feels entirely unreal. 

Las Vegas already feels surreal. It’s an oasis of casinos, clubs and skylines of some of the great cities of the world plopped right in the desert. The Sphere takes this to a whole new level. 

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The Sphere engulfs you in a world somewhere between the Death Star and the Quidditch Stadium in Harry Potter. Before the show, the 160,000-square-foot screen was covered by concrete panels — creating the sense that you were inside a silo with a small opening into the night sky at the top. U2 opened with “Zoo Station” and the panels gradually separated along perpendicular faults to reveal a nearly blinding light. 

The brightness of the beams of light bursting through the panels was shocking. It made my jaw drop faster and farther than any time I can recall. The band then pays homage to its Zoo TV Tour during “The Fly” before a screen full of ticking digits falls on top of us, causing raw urgency, wonder and confusion. At one point during “Even Better than the Real Thing,” you feel as if the stage is rotating up and you’re falling back.

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It’s hard to be truly shocked these days. There’s so much wild stuff on the Internet that seemingly every time someone tells a crazy story you can connect it to something you’ve read or heard about. There is nothing like the Sphere. There’s nothing that can prepare you for what you see (except maybe psychedelics). It makes you feel like a kid. 

There is not a better-suited band on the planet to first perform at the Sphere than U2. They’re the perfect mix of legendary and self-important to capture the phantasmic nature of a giant ball plopped in Vegas that makes you question just about everything. 

“Achtung Baby” lends itself extraordinarily well to the Sphere. The album is sufficiently iconic to lure in Gen-Xers from all over the world to see the show, and it’s just eccentric enough that its visuals and sound will make you feel as if you’re in some other reality. 

At times during the show, I would forget there was a concert going on. The visuals and 360-degree sound put you in a trance. Considering that U2’s 2017 show at Soldier Field on their “Joshua Tree” Tour is the best concert I’ve ever been to and that U2 is one of my favorite bands of all time, this speaks volumes.

You’re not at a concert at the Sphere. You’re at an experience that isn’t comparable to anything. How the band sounds is an afterthought. How overpriced the beers are is an afterthought. How expensive the tickets are is an afterthought. The only thing that matters inside the Sphere is the genuine shock and amazement you feel experiencing something completely new — and this is healthy.

One of the weird aspects of the show was everyone in seats sat for the entirety of the main set. Again, the performance is not really a concert. It wasn’t until “Where the Streets Have No Name” that the crowd rose to its feet. When the song started, the screen transformed into an ultra-clear image of the desert. It felt as if the Sphere was filled with natural light. This coupled with “Where the Streets Have No Name” being arguably the band’s biggest hit brought about pure excitement.

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I don’t know what the future of the Sphere is. (And, yes, I know it’s just “Sphere,” not “the Sphere.” There’s no bigger stickler for saying it’s “Eagles” and not “The Eagles” than me. I just decided I didn’t want to make you readers uncomfortable.) But what I do know is it’s an incredible engineering achievement and an unbelievable experience. Its bizarreness transcends who’s performing or who owns it or how gaudy it is. It’s cool. Let’s appreciate that.

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