The opening night of U2:UV Achtung Baby Live at Sphere, in Las Vegas on Friday, launched Sin City’s newest, most technologically advanced venue with a gig that left fans amazed, moved and full of praise. But what did the world’s media think of the most ambitious performance in the Irish band’s history?
The Guardian: ‘An utterly astonishing, admirably raw Vegas extravaganza’
U2 have never been a band noted for their love of shy understatement, but even by their standards, their arrival in Las Vegas represents a hitherto-unimagined degree of grandiosity.
They unveil not just an entire venue – the 18,000 seat Sphere, its exterior completely covered in LED screens that turn it different colours, flash up QR codes and occasionally transform it into a giant emoji face, leering over the Las Vegas strip – but also a vast overhead walkway that links it to the Venetian Resort (hotels are tireless in their efforts to stop patrons going outside, an activity that carries with it the danger you might spend your money somewhere else). The interior of the concert hall is completely covered in LED screens, too. They stretch out far above the band and over the audience’s heads, the better to provide a sequence of genuinely astonishing visual effects.
Some big, rather arty names have been involved in the visuals, among them Es Devlin and Brian Eno, and there’s a moment early on where the screens flash up a preponderance of aphorisms that recall Jenny Holzer’s text-based installations – WORK IS THE BLACKMAIL OF SURVIVAL, TASTE IS THE ENEMY OF ART, ENJOY THE SURFACE – but ultimately, it’s all about spectacle, which it provides in jaw-dropping spades. During The Fly, the visuals appear to descend from the roof of the auditorium, creating a fake ceiling made of pulsing numbers. During Even Better Than the Real Thing, they give the disorientating impression that the stage and the standing audience around it are slowly moving upwards: an amazing bit of visual sleight-of-hand that leaves you slightly queasy. “What a fancy pad,” offers Bono, casting his eyes around the venue. “Look at all this … stuff.”
This cocktail of eye-popping visuals and slightly unruly performances absolutely works, allaying any concerns that a band from the post-punk era and the old showbiz connotations of a residency in Las Vegas constitute a slightly uncomfortable fit, regardless of how many millions of records the band has sold, or how mainstream an audience they’ve attracted in the interim. Indeed, it works so well that, like Abba’s Voyage show, you leave feeling confident this is an idea others are going to copy: clearly other rock bands are going to turn up to the Sphere in the future, bearing performances big on dazzling technology. Whether they’ll be as dazzling, or indeed as charming as this, time will show.
USA Today: ‘U2 open Sphere Las Vegas with swagger and spectacle’
Regardless of what happens at the multibillion-dollar Las Vegas behemoth following U2′s opening rush of shows over the next three months, the band’s “U2:UV Achtung Baby Live at Sphere” performance is a marvel.
To call Sphere a spectacle doesn’t do justice to the structure that, at 516-feet wide and 366 feet tall, takes up about two city blocks and is taller than a football field is long. It’s the world’s largest spherical shaped venue according to designers and its walls of video screens envelop the audience in a visual embrace and pristine, isolated sound.
It’s IMAX meets the Death Star – with a lot of swagger, a head trip of artsy graphics and a trove of heartfelt songs.
With so many memorable visual stunners, it’s tough to pinpoint the cleverest, but the mega-sized video of Elvis Presley meshed with scenes of old Las Vegas and close-ups of U2 floating in bubbles during “Even Better Than the Real Thing” is a frontrunner.
Bono and the boys have always been vocal about their affection for the classics, and their show includes several nods – some more subtle than others – to their Vegas forebearers.
“Look at all this stuff,” Bono said, scanning the 17,000-plus crowd and the graphics surrounding the band. “Elvis has definitely NOT left this building. It’s an Elvis cathedral and tonight there is a password to enter: flirtation.”
The Telegraph: ‘This spectacular concert will change live entertainment forever’
Are you ready to have your mind blown? On Friday night in Las Vegas, U2 inaugurated the new state-of-the-art Sphere venue with a concert that sets a new bar for live entertainment. Launching a 25-show residency in a $2.4 billion, 18,000 capacity super high-tech dome, the Irish rock band delivered a genuinely astonishing set. Imagine the best visuals and sound you have ever seen and heard, toss it up with some CGI world building that makes Avatar look quaint, throw in some brain-scrambling illusions that would bedazzle David Copperfield then blast it all out with the fourth-wall smashing passion that has driven the Irish rock band since their punky origins. It was utterly extraordinary.
Honestly, in the wrong hands, this technology could be quite nauseating. But U2 are past masters when it comes to the emotional dynamics of a show. Throughout their career, they have sought to deliver intimacy at scale, and they used the potential of this almost science fictional space with a surprising degree of restraint. The focus (for the most part) remained very much on the band on a surprisingly spartan stage, with nothing between them and the audience. They may have been high-definition on the vast screen, but they were also right there in the flesh.
I’ve been watching U2 most of my life and I honestly don’t think I have ever seen Bono so nervous, sweating profusely, occasionally lost for words, an old road warrior engaging with the challenges of a new kind of stage space. He sang a spontaneous refrain of The Beatles’ Love Me Do, dedicating it to Paul McCartney, who was in the first night audience. “I’m thinking the Sphere may have come into existence trying to solve the problem The Beatles started at Shea Stadium in 1965. Nobody could hear you and you couldn’t hear yourselves,” said Bono, before asking the crowd, “Can you hear us?” Loud and clear, judging by the response.
There was an atmosphere of intense jeopardy inspired by the musicians on stage playing as if their lives depended upon it, while remaining in some kind of equilibrium with a venue that felt like it had a life of its own. They say what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Not this time, I think. What U2 are doing in the Sphere is going to have an impact on the whole of live entertainment. Achtung Vegas!
Billboard: ‘Sphere never overshadows U2, Sphere magnifies U2′
You might think that all the technological bells and whistles could overshadow the performance, but U2′s music and message always remained the focal point throughout the two-hour set – even when a pop-culture kaleidoscope of images scrolled up the 366-foot screen in rapid succession, making it unclear if the floor or the stage might be moving or if your mind was just playing tricks on you. (That was during the Achtung Baby single “Even Better Than the Real Thing,” only three songs into the concert, and it was truly the most unreal moment of the night.)
But the real magic was often when the production chose not to inundate the full screen, pulling back with just a monochromatic blue backdrop or a starry night sky for quieter songs, or just projecting large images of the bandmembers during a turntable segment that will feature different non-Achtung Baby songs each night over the 25-show run.
In the end, Sphere never overshadows U2; Sphere magnifies U2, pairing a band that has attempted to innovate with each new tour over their 40-plus-year career with a venue that seemingly has no limits of innovation.
inews.co.uk: ‘High-tech spectacle remakes what a gig could do’
U2 at Sphere is a son et lumière et vidéo extravaganza, foregrounding the band’s 1991 album Achtung Baby, and created to christen a new kind of entertainment venue – a technologically advanced playground-cum-amphitheatre with a $2.3 billion price-tag. Sphere, brought to you by the billionaire people behind New York’s Madison Square Garden, comes wrapped in a 580,000-square-foot exterior LED display which can make the building look like Goliath’s eyeball. Or, on the night I flew in, a blood moon that’s splashed down in the desert. Inside, the 162,000-foot, wraparound display fills your peripheral vision as completely as the pin-sharp sound quality fills your head.
At the Irish band’s groundbreaking Las Vegas staycation, nothing has been left to chance. It’s bells, whistles and vertiginous video visuals stretching as far as the neck can crane. But it’s testament to the creative synchronicity of the musicians, artists, designers and tech teams involved that everything lines up. And it’s testament, too, to the strength of the band and their musicianship that, crucially, neither songs nor performers are lost in the onslaught of ultra-high-resolution imagery. Drummer Larry Mullen might be absent, recuperating after surgery, but nothing else is.
You can win a trip for two to see U2:UV Achtung Baby Live at Sphere in Las Vegas. Find out how in Ticket, the Irish Times culture magazine, on Saturday, October 7th