Exactly What It’s Like Inside the Sensory Overload of U2’s Vegas “Sphere” Show

“The stage is moving. The stage is rising toward the ceiling.”

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At least that’s what my brain told me as I watched U2 play “Even Better Than the Real Thing” in Las Vegas, my nervous system short-circuiting, my eyes struggling to take in a wraparound LED screen that stretched across my entire field of vision. On the 366-foot-tall screen in front of me, thousands of AI-generated Elvises were shaking their hips in a digital landscape filled with golden chandeliers, hula dancers, sundials, tumbling dice, chunks of Art Deco buildings, and all sorts of Las Vegas kitsch. 

It looked like the inside of a kaleidoscope, overflowing with images that lit up, spun around, and multiplied themselves into patterns. Then things got really psychedelic as the visuals started to scroll downward, a whole army of Elvises and pyramids and marble statues all traveling the full length of Sphere’s video wall, from the domed roof above our heads to a floor that I could’ve sworn was moving upward.

You Won’t (and Shouldn’t) Believe Your Eyes (But You Will Anyway)

I’ve seen U2 more than a dozen times over 20 years. At their best, they really do elevate the room. But in Las Vegas, silhouetted against a waterfall of images on the world’s highest-resolution LED screen, it looked like U2 were physically rising off the ground. 

They weren’t really moving, of course, unless you counted Bono’s rotating platform at the center of the stage, which was shaped to look like a record player. That’s the beauty of U2’s ongoing residency at the Las Vegas Sphere, though. It’s a masterclass in convincing the audience to suspend its disbelief.

During the final minute of “Even Better Than the Real Thing,” Bono spread his arms wide and sang, Take me higher / You take me higher, like it was a command to the world itself—and the world obeyed. The stage stage seemed to actually climb toward the ceiling—a visual trick caused by the downward motion of the screen behind it—and in that moment, I believed.

My friend believed, too, but he also got seasick. I watched as the color drained from his face during “The Fly” and he sank to his knees, disappearing beneath the outstretched arms of the audience with the short explanation that he “just needed a minute to rest, homie.”

Oh Yeah: The Music Is Pretty Good, Too

I understood what he meant. U2’s show was a dizzying and disorienting experience for the first 20 minutes, while the boys made their way through most of Achtung Baby‘s A side. The performance itself was excellent, with flawless guitar work from The Edge and a slightly harder-hitting version of Larry Mullen Jr.’s drumbeats courtesy of the band’s temporary timekeeper, Bram van den Berg. (Yes, it’s weird to watch U2 perform with a different drummer as Mullen recovers from back surgery, but van den Berg is great in his temporary role, playing those familiar grooves with a precision that makes the audience appreciate just how good Mullen’s parts are in the first place.)

[RELATED: All the Songs on U2’s ‘Achtung Baby’ Album Ranked]

After hitting the high notes for 47 years, Bono is still comfortable with most of Achtung Baby‘s melodies—it was later, during songs like “With or Without You” and “Where the Streets Have No Name,” that he asked (and received) help from the audience, turning those moments into massive singalongs with 18,000 participants. And all the while, Adam Clayton continued to strike his calm, collected pose onstage, his hair a brilliant shade of platinum, and his bass more prominent in the mix than usual.

Also more prominent than usual were the smart phones. Throughout the two-hour show, thousands of iPhones lit up the sky as attendees tried to capture the visual craziness unfolding all around us. I sympathized with that, too, and U2 surely expected it. The band’s stage is small, after all, and the action that happens there—no matter how compelling—doesn’t quite compare to what happens on the screen behind it. If we hadn’t been close to the stage itself—so close that we could see van den Berg blush deeply every time Bono turned to him with a smirk, as if to say to the drummer, “Isn’t this whole thing wild?”—we might’ve resented all those outthrust phones. It just would’ve been too much technology.

A Soundtrack to Sensory Overload

But that’s also what U2:UV Achtung Baby Live at Sphere is all about. It’s the soundtrack to sensory overload. It’s spectacle upon spectacle. It’s a literal ball of technology, with speakers hidden in the curved walls and LED screens splashed across every surface like paint, all wrapped around a nucleus of honest, heart-on-sleeve music. The more ridiculous the exterior, the more we appreciate the thing holding it all together. 

U2 are, to put it mildly, a big band. They simply don’t do minimalism, and that makes them great ambassadors for a multi-billion-dollar venue that’s built to shock and awe. U2:UV Achtung Baby Live at Sphere isn’t just a U2 show—it’s a co-bill with Sphere itself. And for those fans who are willing to let the band share the spotlight with the technology, the entire evening is wonderful in its excess.

Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Tickets to U2:UV Achtung Baby Live at Sphere are available via StubHub, where orders are 100% guaranteed through StubHub’s FanProtect program. StubHub is a secondary market ticketing platform, and prices may be higher or lower than face value, depending on demand.

At the time of this publication, U2 had extended its run in Vegas through February 18, 2024, but as you’d imagine, tickets are going fast, so jump on some now

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