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06th Dec 2023

I went to Vegas to see U2 at the Sphere, and it’s the spectacle you imagine it is

Fiona Frawley

u2 at the sphere

Full disclosure – I’m not the diehard U2 fan this trip would suggest I am.

But Bono and his bug-shaped glasses are the true love of my boyfriend’s life. He’s been obsessed, technically since before he was born – bopping away to Where the Streets Have No Name in his equally obsessed mother’s womb. He’s travelled all over the world to see multiple performances of each tour, including Bono’s one man show Stories of Surrender which he saw in Dublin, London and New York respectively. As Princess Di would say, there are three of us in this relationship. So it’s a little crowded.

When details of U2’s stint at the Sphere were revealed in April, he shook his head and announced he wouldn’t be going. The expense of the trip itself, exorbitant ticket prices, absence of drummer Larry Mullen Jr and lack of remaining annual leave days came together like a fully combined Transformer, deeming the trip unfeasible and out of the question.

… That is until videos of the first night at the Sphere started doing the rounds, and a frantic search for “affordable” Vegas hotels, relatively reasonable flights made possible by multiple transfers and a pledge to head immediately into the office after a half day off to fly home got underway.

Via Getty 

I wasn’t planning on going – as I said, U2 aren’t my bag and I’m not in the business of bankrupting myself. But the visual of my other half wandering the Strip and trying to work out how to use the penny slots alone was just too sad, so I decided to put it all on red and head along for the adventure too.

If you’ve been to Vegas, you’ll know the neon-soaked strip and maximalist hotel towers are visible from the plane as you land, and that skyline now includes the multi-sensory, hologram-wielding sphere. At 366 feet tall and 516 feet wide, the LED-dotted dome pulsates 24/7 with changeable moving images, from giant winking emojis to huge-scale NFL advertisements.

After a day of exploring and little to no success on the electronic roulette tables, it was time to head along to the gig so we followed the herd of u2 t-shirt wearers in the direction of the Venetian. The fast moving queue of fans were emotional, many sequin-clad, and as one man in front of us pointed out, “definitely not Gen Z”.

Our standing tickets set us back about $260 each – the extreme lower end of entry prices for this venue. Taking in the 18,000 seater ahead of showtime, it wasn’t just the scale and 16K LED screen that boggled the mind; it was the thought of how much money the Sphere takes in on any given night. Higher end tickets were initially advertised with a price tag of about $1,500, with some parting with double this at the hands of resellers. As reported by the Independent last month, some lower level tickets ended up being listed for €1,186 on Ticketmaster, with elevated VIP tickets that started at €569 climbing up to €5,693 due to popular demand. We were happy to be standing, close to the band and still able to take in the all-encompassing visuals but really, there’s no bad vantage point at this venue.

A DJ parading through the arena in a neon Trabant welcomes you into the Sphere. Via Getty. 

As we entered, DJ Pauli The PSM made his way through the general admission floor in a neon car, warming the crowd up with a setlist of 80s and 90s bops. Bizarrely, cocktail waitresses made their way through the packed standing area with trays full of drinks, continuing to take and deliver orders even after the gig had started. Of all the things I saw at the Sphere, this was one of the most shocking. $1.2 billion screens are impressive, but not as impressive as women  weaving through a crowd of 10,000, stacked tray in hand without spilling so much as a foam bubble.

For the pre-show, the Sphere’s screen assumed the guise of textured, very real looking iron bolts, to be pulled apart as U2 took the stage, revealing flickering tv static and visuals of the band giving it welly for their opening number, Zoo Station.

Via Getty. 

The gig itself is a love letter to super fans who dream of hearing rarely played album tracks performed live – alongside Mysterious Ways and Even Better than the Real Thing, U2 dutifully churn out Love is Blindness, Tryin’ to Throw Your Arms Around the World and Acrobat, which before 2018 the band had never played live.

Probably the most frequently shared visual, the climbing, rapidly changing neon numbers which somehow transform the massive dome into a square structure came next, followed by a Sistine Chapel-esque ode to Elvis and the 31 feature films he starred in. Other monumental visuals included a burning flag in the dessert, Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton and stand-in drummer Bram van den Berg floating through the space in bubble form, a collage of all the world’s endangered species and a cartoon balloon that Bono somehow managed to clutch onto the bottom of for the duration of Tryin’ to Throw Your Arms Around the World. The massive screen’s shape-shifts are quick and beguiling, and if you spend even 30 seconds looking at the band you’ll be looking back up at something completely transformed, sometimes leading you to wonder whether you’re inside or out.

“King Size,” a work created by Marco Brambilla using generative AI technology. Image via Getty. 

It’s hard to describe the Sphere without stating the glaringly obvious. It’s a spectacle. It’s massive. It’s all-encompassing. It’s nothing you’ve ever seen before. But it definitely lives up to the hype. Just ask Lady Gaga – she was spotted in the VIP section for a second viewing on the night I attended.

If you’re a U2 fan, this is definitely a once in a lifetime trip. We thought we’d be the only Irish people there but we bumped into a lad from Drimnagh getting drinks beforehand (obviously) and there were more than a few tricolours waving in the crowd. Between flights, accommodation and tickets the trip probably cost us about €1,200 each – that’s before spending but if you lived on fast food, stayed away from the casinos and didn’t fork out the $20 for a pint at the Sphere, you could potentially live frugally enough for the weekend. U2’s residency has been extended til 2 March 2024, if you’re interested.

Header image via Getty 


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