U2 hit the jackpot with a Las Vegas gamble, says ADRIAN THRILLS10/06/2023
U2 hit the jackpot with a Las Vegas gamble: ADRIAN THRILLS reviews the band live at the Sphere
U2 (Sphere, Las Vegas)
Verdict: Raises the roof — and standards
U2 have always maintained that rock’s biggest stages need decorating accordingly. On their Zoo TV and PopMart tours in the 1990s, they pioneered the use of the huge LED screens that are now standard at mega-gigs. In 2015, their Innocence + Experience tour saw the introduction of a double-sided video wall that divided arenas in two.
And despite frontman Bono’s attempts to downplay the scale of their latest extravaganza — ‘what a fancy pad,’ he said, feigning surprise — the Dublin band took the ‘wow’ factor to a new level on the opening night of a Las Vegas residency that marked the launch of a futuristic auditorium, Sphere, that sets a new benchmark for live entertainment.
Playing a two-hour set based around the Achtung Baby album, U2 deployed a dazzling array of digital effects to leave the senses reeling. The planetarium-like Sphere, which towers like a giant crystal ball above Vegas’s famous Strip, was the perfect platform, and the band made the most of its studio-level audio quality (courtesy of 164,000 speakers) and a wraparound screen that enveloped the audience, flanking fans and stretching upwards into a 366ft-high dome.
The spectacle, supervised by long-term U2 tour designer Willie Williams, was breathtaking. By the end of the evening, computer technology had seemingly transformed an indoor venue into the great outdoors — with the band and 18,000 devotees apparently surrounded by the Vegas skyline and a barren Mojave Desert landscape.
The notion that Achtung Baby would become the basis of a 25-show, three-month residency would have seemed far-fetched when the LP was released. When it arrived in 1991, U2 were trying to re-establish their credentials as a modern art-rock group after dabbling in rootsy Americana on 1988’s Rattle And Hum.
The notion that Achtung Baby would become the basis of a 25-show, three-month residency would have seemed far-fetched when the LP was released in 1991
Playing a two-hour set based around the Achtung Baby album, U2 deployed a dazzling array of digital effects to leave the senses reeling
The spectacle, supervised by long-term U2 tour designer Willie Williams, was breathtaking
But Achtung Baby, played in full here, worked a treat on a compact stage designed, by musician Brian Eno, to resemble the turntable of a record player. Rather than stick to the album’s original running order, the band played all of its big singles early on.
Colourful graphics buzzed around fans for The Fly.
Mysterious Ways, expertly crafted by guitarist The Edge and bassist Adam Clayton, was lean and funky. Even Better Than The Real Thing was literally dizzying, as tricks of the light made it look as if the stage was rising and the ceiling falling in.
Hits from other U2 albums also featured. All I Want Is You (‘my attempt to write a wedding song,’ said Bono) and Angel Of Harlem were played in the ‘unplugged’ style of this year’s Songs Of Surrender.
There were a few tricky moments. The Edge briefly left the stage for running repairs to his guitar.
Bono’s attempt to recreate a famous Live Aid moment by dancing onstage with a female fan felt hokey. And for all the audio-visual wizardry, there was also a mid-set lull, albeit one that featured the moving, but rarely-played, heartache ballad So Cruel.
U2 are no strangers to extravagant staging and colourful graphics buzzed around fans for The Fly
Bono rose to the occasion. Even he occasionally seemed overawed by the whistles and bells, but he still navigated the night as if he was playing a small club
Track of the Week: Better Place by NSYNC
Back with their first new material in 22 years, the Florida boy band revive the falsetto harmonies of their heyday while adding dashes of modern disco-pop, with Justin Timberlake to the fore.
But despite first-night nerves, Bono rose to the occasion. Even he occasionally seemed overawed by the whistles and bells, but he still navigated the night as if he was playing a small club, bringing warmth and off-the-cuff humour to the stage.
He launched into an impromptu cover of Thin Lizzy’s Dancing In The Moonlight (‘for all the Irish in the house’), momentarily wrong-footing his flummoxed bandmates. Country-style lament Love Rescue Me combined intimacy and power. One had the simple emotional impact of a great ballad brilliantly sung.
The show sought to reiterate U2’s place in the realm of rock and soul greats, with tributes — some spontaneous, others scripted — to numerous legends. There were references to Elvis Presley, who played his first Vegas residency in 1956. ‘Elvis has definitely not left this building,’ said Bono. ‘It’s an Elvis chapel. It’s an Elvis cathedral.’ He sang the chorus of Viva Las Vegas and, during One, added lines from Prince’s Purple Rain. Paul McCartney, who was watching the show, also got a big shout-out. Bono introduced snippets of The Beatles’ Love Me Do, Blackbird and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. He waxed lyrical about The Beatles’ fabled Shea Stadium concert of 1965 and compared Sir Paul to Mozart and Brahms: ‘Just know that we love you . . . and we’ve stolen a lot of your songs,’ he quipped.
All I Want Is You was dedicated to regular drummer Larry Mullen, who is recovering from back surgery and was replaced here by Dutch musician Bram Van Den Berg.
It was the first time U2 had played without Mullen since 1978. Luckily, his stand-in didn’t put a drumstick wrong.
The night ended with a stellar run of hits, including Beautiful Day, Where The Streets Have No Name and With Or Without You, and the spectacular digital transformation of Sphere into an outdoor venue.
If plans for an equivalent auditorium in East London come to fruition, U2 would be a perfect opening act. ‘I’m the luckiest man on earth,’ said Bono. He should be chuffed: this was a Sin City gamble that paid off handsomely.
Rick’s Never Gonna Let You Down
Rick Astley: Are We There Yet? (BMG)
Verdict: Rick rolls back the years
The biggest winner of this year’s Glastonbury wasn’t Elton John or Axl Rose. It was Rick Astley, who made his Pyramid Stage debut and followed that with a second appearance, alongside Stockport indie quintet Blossoms, where he sang Smiths covers. The double triumph capped a remarkable few years that have seen him rebound from being a 1980s has-been to assume national treasure status.
Rick Astley has rolled back the years with ‘Are We There Yet’
His comeback, which began with 2016’s 50 album and the unlikely ‘Rickrolling’ internet craze, is gathering pace with a new album and an autumn tour that runs into next spring. The shows promise to be a giddy festival of nostalgia, sprinkled with hits such as 1987’s Never Gonna Give You Up. The album, while uneven, showcases a mature showman happy to move between genres.
Astley, 57, began making Are We There Yet? in his home studio in lockdown, playing most of the instruments himself. A Nashville twang is the thang on Dippin’ My Feet, a country-rocker on which he sings about his distrust of ‘city boys’ and his desire to dip his feet in the Mississippi River. It’s catchy enough — if incongruous, in the hands of a bloke from Newton-Le-Willows in Merseyside.
He’s more at home on blue-eyed soul tracks. Never Gonna Stop is built on an arrangement inspired by Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On. Waterfall nods to Bill Withers and Martha Reeves.
There’s also a northern soul pastiche in Forever And More and, on Blue Sky, a piano-led reflection on the stillness of his garden in lockdown. It’s a suave return. His forthcoming gigs will be livelier.
- Rick Astley starts a UK tour on October 16 at the Electric Ballroom, London (gigsandtours.com).
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