U2 played two nights in The Sphere in Las Vegas over the weekend. Alamy Stock Photo
The fly on the wall

'Astonishing and admirably raw': International reviews praise U2's opening nights in Las Vegas

Over the weekend U2 played two shows at the futuristic venue and reviews of the “spectacle” are now in.

REVIEWS OF U2′S first two shows for their 25-show residency at the Sphere in Las Vegas reveal a great level of excitement for the concert experience.

The Sphere, at the Venetian Resort, is a 110-metre tall dome covered in LED screens to light up the inside and outside of the music-only venue. Over 50,000 square-metres of LED screen is used in and outside of the ‘Dome’.

U2, who now hold a residency at the venue, played two shows at the location and reviews of the “spectacle” are now in – which are overwhelmingly positive for the new experience that the venue brings to music.

RTÉ – ‘U2:UV at Sphere is… phenomenal.’

RTÉ’s Tracy Clifford was at the second night of the U2:UV Achtung Baby Live at Sphere. Clifford wrote that the new 4D technology makes you “feel the music”.

She said that the gig felt intimate, despite “366 feet tall with screens that go up and around your head”.

She also detailed the images which appeared on screen throughout the concert, which changed depending on the song.

Irish flags for Where the Streets Have No Nameporcelain creatures during Beautiful Day and a “surreal” backdrop during the band’s new song Atomic City “turns the dome into daylight”, she said.

Signing off her review, Clifford described the experience as “phenomenal”.

LA Times – ‘U2’s members wanted to remind us that they’re just, y’know, regular guys.’

Writing for the LA times, Mikael Wood explored the band’s choice to play their older album, questioning if it was “just a delivery device” for the experience in the Sphere – where the futuristic experience was paired with music to attract the masses.

Swelling his review with details around the amount of technology and artwork that was commissioned and used for the gigs, he said that the story by the concert was “hard to discern”, but suggested that there was more focus on the “sheer obliterating pleasure of sensory overload”.

With less focus on story and music choice, the audience can focus on the barrage of colour and light that crowds can experience at the Sphere, he found.

Wood also detailed that even Bono, the Edge, Adam Clayton and Bram van den Berg (filling in for Larry Mullen on drums) were often seen gazing up at the spectacle above and around.

“At one point, even the Edge gazed upward and seemed to tunnel into the high-def splendor of what amounted to a cutting-edge art installation — less a musician deifying himself than just another somebody eager to get lost,” he wrote.

people-arrive-for-the-opening-night-of-the-sphere-and-u2s-uv-achtung-baby-show-friday-sept-29-2023-in-las-vegas-ap-photojohn-locher The Sphere lit up from outside on Friday. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

New York Times – ‘…a venue equally as obsessed with hugeness, pomp and spectacle as U2 is.’

Jon Caramanica of the New York Times continued the debate on the music choice and theme of the show. He said there was “still something not quite complete about this performance”, despite the display.

He also suggested that the band “leaned heavily” on the album chosen. “But playing it in full (though not in order) meant peaks and valleys,” he added.

Despite the performance, Caramanica was clearly overcome by the LED display, marvelling over the same daylight affect detailed by RTÉ, adding that the bright lights were “a welcome and thoughtful recalibration of band to room, and audience to band”. 

He said he was left with three questions however: “Was this a big show or a small one? Was it selling intimacy or grandeur? Was it extraordinarily mundane, or mundanely extraordinary?” – the latter something he believed fell into the culture of Vegas and the venue.

las-vegas-usa-30th-sep-2023-las-vegas-nevada-september-29-bono-the-edge-adam-clayton-and-bram-van-den-berg-of-u2-perform-during-opening-night-of-u2-achtung-baby-live-at-sphere-on-september A structure, turned into an experience - USA Today. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

USA Today – ‘A structure, turned into an experience’

A positive outlook on U2′s performance was also found in Melissa Ruggieri’s account of the gig for USA Today’s entertainment section.

She said the word ‘spectacle’ did The Sphere “justice” and described the experience as “IMAX meets the Death Star”.

By Ruggieri’s account, the band paid homage to the guests who filled the room by intermittently playing covers of Paul McCartney and the late Jimmy Buffett, as well as tributes to Elvis Presley in what was his stomping ground.

Bono’s “fine, muscular voice” did the tributes justice, she added.

Ruggieri says more casual U2 followers were “rewarded” by the band’s hits during a “30-minute feast” where the lights in the dome continued. “The Sphere is a mighty structure, no doubt. But U2 turns it into an experience,” she concluded.

las-vegas-usa-30th-sep-2023-las-vegas-nevada-september-29-bono-the-edge-adam-clayton-and-bram-van-den-berg-of-u2-perform-during-opening-night-of-u2-achtung-baby-live-at-sphere-on-september The Guardian: ‘utterly astonishing and admirably raw'. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

The Guardian – ‘utterly astonishing & admirably raw’

A five-star rating was given to the band by The Guardian’s Alexis Petridis, who said the song order and album choice had to do with the “appealingly ramshackle nature” of the gig itself.

Comparing the band’s “stadium-packing standards” to the relatively smaller 18,000-strong crowd, Petridis said it was fair to count the concert as “intimate”, due to the venue shape and light experience.

He also described the event as a “cocktail of eye-popping visuals and slightly unruly performances” and said it “absolutely works”. He added that the audience left “feeling confident this is an idea others are going to copy” and rated the experience full-marks.

The Telegraph – ‘I don’t think I have ever seen Bono so nervous’

The band’s biographer and The Telegraph music critic Neil McCormick wrote that it was clear that Bono was nervous, but that he believed U2 was  the right pick to be in charge of the new tech.

“Honestly, in the wrong hands,” McCormick said, “this technology could be quite nauseating.”

However, he said U2′s ability to master the “emotional dynamics of a show” turned the performance from an event into an experience.

“They say what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Not this time, I think,” McCormick concluded, matching The Guardian’s ranking at five full stars.

las-vegas-usa-30th-sep-2023-las-vegas-nevada-september-29-bono-the-edge-adam-clayton-and-bram-van-den-berg-of-u2-perform-during-opening-night-of-u2-achtung-baby-live-at-sphere-on-september The 'Dome' lit up like an emoji on Friday. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Variety – ‘U2:UV’ manages to feel like actual rock ‘n’ roll

Variety’s Chris Willman marvelled at the Sphere as a venue, and the impressive feats in technology that he said were evident through the show.

Without attempting to discredit the band, Willman said the “most impressive moment of the Sphere show may be when you first walk in the room” – describing it as entering “the world’s coolest nightclub”.

Willman also admired the way the band used the LED system, detailing how it would turn off completely at times, which gave the audience time to appreciate “to the utter simplicity of the stage they’re on that almost seems like its own special effect”.

The writer said that, despite the sheer amount that went on during the show, “nobody in rock history has done a better job of taking visual and aesthetic dynamics to extremes” than U2, who still managed to make the performance feel intimate.

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