From the opening ethereal buzz of "Zoo Station/The Fly" to the last notes of "Beautiful Day," U2 began their 25-show run at The Sphere at the Venetian Resort in Las Vegas Friday night with some awe-inspiring technology to boot.
On a static turntable stage (designed by Brian Eno), the band — Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton and fill-in drummer Bram van den Berg — showcased what was billed as a full performance of their 1991 "Achtung Baby," interspersed with songs from "Rattle and Hum," "The Joshua Tree," and their single "Atomic City."
The audience, a quaint 18,600 (by U2 stadium standards) including numerous luminaries were participants in the show, granted high-speed internet and for 10,000 seats, haptic technology. The enveloping atmosphere is the key to the presentation, as it compliments and enhances the music. The visual sleight of hand only increases the drama surrounding the concertgoers (with Jenny Holzer-like word transmissions, reminiscent of The ZooTV tour), up to and including a Live Aid-style moment of Bono picking an individual to ascend on a sheet of knots — and then pushing them swinging into the crowd. Dangerous? Inherently so, but then U2 are breaking barriers with this show. However that happens.
The banter from Bono ("What a fancy pad. Look at all this...stuff!") has not changed and quite a number of times, he looked around at the hypnotic visuals during the songs, hanging on to his mic stand for what looked like dear life.
He also added a callout at the conclusion of "Desire" on the first night's performance to Paul McCartney. Tacking on a quick sample of "Love Me Do," he acknowledged "Macca is in the house tonight. Paul McCartney is here," and thanked The Beatles for paving the way, recalling the insurmountable feat of playing at Shea Stadium with little to no amplification in 1965. Bono also had his monologue prepared by way of introducing van den Berg on the next night: prefacing that as the singer he let the musicians "do their thing," he came in after three days of rehearsals in Dublin. The first words from the drummer to Bono were "Oh, so there is a fourth member of U2?"
There are of course unexpected diversions along the way, as one writer noted the shift into playing Thin Lizzy's "Dancing In The Moonlight," to the surprise of Clayton, has more to do with the human, roughhewn approach (or perhaps, first-night nerves) that U2 are not projecting some by-the-numbers approach to these shows. Rather, it's a complement and bow to the massive all-encompassing spirit that The Sphere and the audience evoke.