“Sorry to drag you all the way here to Vegas,” Adam Clayton jokes by the stage of the Sphere, where U2 are kicking off a 25-show residency this weekend. Such a drag, agrees The Irish Times, part of a group of journalists from Ireland who earlier had been taking turns doing impressions of Bono on the Brian Eno-designed turntable stage.
So how was Friday for the band, who anointed the spectacular new auditorium, just off the Strip, with the opening night of U2:UV Achtung Baby Live from Sphere? “Way better than I ever could have expected or hoped for,” the Edge says about a venue that relies heavily on state-of-the-art technology, including 1.2 million LEDS, a gargantuan wraparound screen and an intricate sound system. “It’s a theory until the audience are in, and then you are actually doing it for real ... Everything just kind of connected.”
Clayton is pleased with the feedback about the clarity of the sound and the extraordinary, in some cases dizzying visuals. “A lot of people I spoke to were saying it’s hard to imagine a normal concert now. This has changed it for everyone, and that’s exciting to be the first doing that.”
The Edge says the Sphere is surprisingly intimate. “When you look up from here you can really see people in the top-tier seats. You can pick out individuals. So it’s not like some of these arenas where you can’t see ... The design is very good for communication. And the intimate moments, it’s amazing. Bono can whisper and you can hear it at the top of the venue, which of course is impossible most of the time. We’re still experimenting with that intimacy, and that’s going to be the fun for us over the next few weeks, trying different things.”
How were their nerves? The Edge says they had to rely a lot on technology that “doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world. There’s always that nagging question: is it going to break down?”
In fact, his guitar equipment had a bit of a malfunction. “I didn’t see it, but my guitar tech was on his hands and knees making my guitar switches for me, which normally I would do if I’m up there ... His system broke down, so he had to crawl out and start doing it,” the Edge says. “It was comedic in a way, when you look at all the technology involved, something so simple.” He also broke a string during Where the Streets Have No Name. “I had to lash down and get a spare, and thankfully it was in tune.”
According to their long-time sound engineer Joe O’Herlihy, from Cork, who first worked with U2 45 years ago, the bespoke sound system means the band had sounded better during the opening night than they ever did. Do they agree? “Right up there,” says the Edge. “I’ll tell you what: there’s no hiding. Every imperfection is audible. We’re having to raise our game.” “It’s the best I’ve heard the Edge,” Clayton says, laughing.
The band launched the venue without Larry Mullen jnr, who is dealing with various injuries. The Dutch drummer Bram van den Berg, of Krezip, took Mullen’s place. How did that feel? “It was pretty scary in so many ways,” Clayton says, adding that their preparation with van den Berg in recent weeks had helped. “He’s got a great attitude. He’ll adapt to whatever I need or the band needs, and he’s great fun to be around.” And, adds the Edge, “he’s a huge Larry fan. He’s not out to reinvent the wheel. He wants to stay true to the spirit of the songs and the arrangements.” “He was probably the least nervous,” Clayton says.
O’Herlihy had speculated earlier that, after U2’s residency here ends, in December, the band might return next year for another go at the Sphere, this time with Mullen. “I wouldn’t rule it out,” the Edge says. “That could happen, and we’d love it if it did.” O’Herlihy had also told us that Clayton was playing the best bass of his life. “Well, he should know. That’s great to hear. Thank you. I think we’re getting better.”
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