LAS VEGAS — It looked like a typical U2 outdoor concert, with two helicopters flying through the starry sky before shining spotlights over the Las Vegas desert and frontman Bono kneeling on the ground as he sang the band’s 2004 hit “Vertigo.” sang.
This scene may seem common, but the visual representation was created through floor-to-ceiling graphics inside the immersive sphere. It was one of several powerful moments during the opening show of U2’s “UV Warning Baby” residency at the state-of-the-art, spherical venue, which opened for the first time on Friday evening.
The legendary rock band, which has won 22 Grammys, performed for two hours in the massive, state-of-the-art spherical venue with crystal clear sound. Attractive images abounded throughout the evening – including kaleidoscopic images, a burning flag and the Las Vegas skyline – taking the more than 18,000 attendees on U2’s epic musical journey.
“What a fancy pad,” said Bono, who was joined on stage by guitarists The Edge and Adam Clayton and drummer Bram van den Berg. He then stared at the high-resolution LED screen, which projected a larger version of himself along with a pair of praying hands and bells.
Bono then paid tribute to the late Elvis Presley, who was an integral part of the Las Vegas entertainment industry. The band was already rocking the city in 1987 when they filmed the music video for “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” on the Strip during a 1987 tour.
“Look at all this stuff. … Elvis definitely didn’t leave that building,” he continued. “It’s an Elvis band. It’s an Elvis cathedral. Tonight, entry into this cathedral is a password: flirt.”
U2 made their presence felt in the $2.3 billion Sphere, which is 111 meters high and 157 meters wide. With excellent visual effects, the band opened their 25-show residency with a slew of hits including “Mysterious Ways,” “Zoo Station,” “All I Want is You,” “Desire,” and new single “Atomic City.”
On many occasions, the U2 band members were so large on screen that it felt as if Bono was singing intimately to the audience on one side while The Edge was strumming his guitar on the other.
The audience included many entertainers and athletes: Oprah, LeBron James, Matt Damon, Andre Agassi, Ava DuVernay, Josh Duhamel, Jason Bateman, Jon Hamm, Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, Oscar de la Hoya, Henrik Lundqvist, Flava Flav, Diplo, Dakota Fanning, Orlando Bloom and Mario Lopez.
After Bono finished the Beatles’ song “Love Me Do,” he recognized Paul McCartney, who was in attendance, and said, “Macca’s in the house tonight.” He acknowledged Sphere owner James Dolan’s efforts to create a venue , which advances the live concert audio landscape with 160,000 high-quality speakers and 260 million video pixels.
The Sphere is the brainchild of Dolan, the chairman of Madison Square Garden and owner of the New York Knicks and Rangers. He sketched the first drawing of the venue on notebook paper.
“I think the Sphere may have come about because Jim Dolan was trying to solve the problem that the Beatles started when they played at Shea Stadium,” Bono said. “No one could hear you. You couldn’t hear yourself. Well, the sphere is here. … Can you hear us?”
The U2 frontman pointed into the crowd and called Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg and Jimmy Iovine. At one point, he became emotional as he dedicated a song to the late Jimmy Buffett’s family, who were also in attendance.
Bono then talked about his first stage appearance without drummer Larry Mullen Jr., who is recovering from back surgery. He acknowledged the birthday of Dutch drummer Bram van den Berg and his replacement for Mullen.
“I’d like to introduce you to the only man who could stand, well, sit, in his shoes,” said Bono, walking toward Berg as some in the crowd began singing “Happy Birthday.” He handed the microphone to Berg, who said a few words.
“There’s no doubt about it, there’s only one Larry Mullen Jr.,” Berg said.
As U2 closed the show, a bright light shone from the ceiling and the huge screen began to fill with images of birds, insects and reptiles over a lake. The band closed their first Sphere concert with “Beautiful Day,” which won three Grammys in 2001.