I’m a U2 fan. So when tickets went on sale on April 27 at a new, not-yet-open dome-shaped Las Vegas entertainment facility called The Sphere, I went to the Ticketmaster Web site. I ended up with four seats for the Irish band’s October 27th show. Tickets in the near-nosebleed 400 section were a reasonable $140, including Ticketmaster’s notorious fees.
When you buy tickets for a concert six months away, a lot of things can happen in the meanwhile.
We were supposed to fly to Israel on October 9, returning to Los Angeles October 23. Unfortunately, the brutal Hamas assault on Israel changed everything, postponing our trip.
Instead, we decided to explore six National Parks in the Southwest, including Zion, Mesa Verde, Arches, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, and Bryce. We ended up in Las Vegas for the U2 show.
We stayed at the Venetian, where we learned that the Sphere was a short walk away. We enjoyed the Grand Canal Shoppes and restaurants. And by leaving our car in the Venetian lot, we avoided the Sphere’s already-notorious parking. Self-parking on site was reportedly $100, valet parking $125. As a casino hotel executive told me, “Oh great now we have two arenas in Las Vegas with no parking.”
Although competition from nearby lots may be driving down prices, Casino.org reported that Sphere set “a new record for Las Vegas parking, which up until seven years ago was free everywhere on the Strip that a concert was ever staged.”
High costs appear de rigeur for the Sphere. I learned that even “cheap seats” like my $140 tix were going for over $350 on resale sites like StubHub. At the show, 100-page programs sold for a stiff $60.
The $2.3 billion Sphere reportedly suffered cost overruns, and with just $7.8 million in revenue lost $98 million in the quarter ended September 30. (The just-opened venue had only two events in the quarter.) Still, CEO James Dolan of MSG Entertainment was bullish on the Sphere. He announced more U2 shows, bringing the total to 36 at the 18,600-seat arena. Future artists, new Spheres in new cities, and, inevitably, higher tickets prices, were hinted at as well.
The Sphere is Las Vegas’ latest wonder. Standing 366 feet tall and spanning 516 feet across, it is the largest spherical structure in the world. Most passers-by will encounter the Sphere from outside, dazed by its bright lights and ever-changing images. The Exosphere, the exterior of the Sphere, is the world’s largest LED screen, comprised of 580,000 square feet of LED light panels.
After dark, the Sphere transforms into spherical objects like an eye, an astronaut helmet, and an ad for the U2 show.
A British newspaper, concerned about MSG bringing a second Sphere to London, quoted a Las Vegas local calling it “a sun on earth.” But others cited the city’s history of bright lights; “Las Vegans are already used to it.”
Inside, it’s a vast open dome that reminded me of a giant planetarium. You might have a 100-inch TV at home, but it can’t compete with the Sphere’s 160,000 square feet of LED panels that create the largest high-definition screen in the world, around you, in front of you, over your head.
Sphere also features an immersive audio system. Its beamforming technology is designed to deliver clear sound directly to each seat, the 167,000-speaker array immersing you in sound.
At the U2 show I thought the volume could actually have been louder. But as they say, if it’s too loud you’re too old.
We sat high up, looking at the musicians far below on a stage that resembled a record player. The band played on the platter. But our nosebleed seats didn’t matter—Sphere video enlarged the performers to 25 feet high, playing right in front of you.
The Sphere, full of what Bono called such “magic tricks,” helped make the U2 show memorable. Bono was speaking about the video and effects, but reportedly ten thousand Sphere seats have an infrasound haptic system offering vibration to go with the sound and light show.(Not our seats at the 400 level, unfortunately.)
As rock fans go, I’m not much of a completionist—I don’t need a set list. But U2 did play many of my favorite songs and anthems like “Desire,” (which Bono handed over to the audience for the chorus), “Ultra Violet (Light My Way), “One”, “Mysterious Ways,” and “Zoo Station.” There were guilty pleasures like “Elevate,” which I think about when I play basketball—“Make me feel that I can fly—so high.” They also played some of my least favorite, like “So Cruel,” with its forgettable lyrics like “love, like a screaming flower.”
Bono paid tribute to “The one who isn’t here” (Larry Mullen Jr.), adding “drummers are not made they’re born.” Mullen is taking some time to heal from years of pounding, with his place taken by Bram van den Berg.
Still, it was clearly a U2 show. Bono hit the high notes on “One” and other songs. Along with the arresting visuals, the show featured the soaring guitar of The Edge and Adam Clayton’s ripping bass. Clayton recently noted, “The bass has to either be sexy or aggressive, or it shouldn’t be there as far as I’m concerned.”
But while the band sang “I’m ready for the gridlock” (“Zoo Station”), the audience wasn’t ready for it getting out of the Sphere.
It took over half an hour to get from our seats into the neighboring Venetian, even though we went down the stairs to avoid the crowded elevators and escalators. Once we reached the arena’s main floor, we were stuck with thousands of others in a narrowing corridor. Security guards let small groups go every few minutes while thousands waited.
Such kinks clearly need to be worked out. But while it’s hard to make every night of a massive 36-show residency an experience, U2 got the crowd up in the narrow aisles, dancing, singing and swaying to the familiar songs.