Inside U2’s Boundary-Breaking Immersive Vegas Show
When U2 launched its Zoo TV tour in 1991, it revolutionized live music. Over the course of 157 shows, the tour—which was in support of their album Achtung Baby—was almost an embarrassment of overwhelming sights and sounds, with cutting-edge visuals (for the time), a lighting system that was encased partially in Soviet-era Trabant cars, and a leather-clad Bono at times portraying a character named MacPhisto. It was a big swing for the group—and it worked. The group reportedly took in more than $151 million in ticket sales, and the tour is still hailed as one of the most artistically successful of all time.
Since then, U2 has consistently pushed the envelope on what its live shows could be, throwing massive mirror-balled lemons and massive LED screens into its late-1990s PopMart tour and creating a massive free-standing “claw” of a stage for its 360-degree tour in the late ’00s. Now, after a four-year hiatus from the road, the group is planning to push its stagecraft even further with a Las Vegas residency this fall.
On September 29, U2 will launch a multi-date residency at the Sphere, a brand-new, perfectly round venue at the Venetian Resort that promises something far grander in a Vegas show than Adele setting fire to the rain. Clad in 580,000 square feet of fully programmable 2K LED screens, the building is the largest spherical structure in the world, holding a multilevel atrium, production spaces, and a 20,000-capacity venue inside.
Setting up shop in the new space is a big undertaking for the band—and for the future of live music. If U2’s Sphere show succeeds, it could help set a precedent for what’s possible. In an era when Beyoncé sells onstage riser seats and Rihanna creates a Super Bowl spectacle using a streamlined floating red stage, fans are clearly clamoring for more and more visual spectacle and access, as well as for a deeper look inside the artists’ creative minds. With a Vegas residency like the one U2 is planning, acts don’t have to worry about moving stages from arena to arena or stress over the middling audio capacities of places designed for sports. Instead, they can focus on what’s new, what’s cool, and what’s never been possible—until now.
“Where U2 really thrives is in this place of pure experimentation and discovery, and where we can do something that we’ve never done before—and in this case, where we can do something that no one else has ever done before,” U2 guitarist The Edge tells WIRED. “I still think that touring is fascinating in its own way and we will definitely still be touring, probably on whatever our next album is, but I think what we’re seeing [with the Sphere show] is the dawn of a new creative genre and a new creative platform.”
Inside the Sphere, a massive 16K-by-16K screen wraps the showroom—even going back and around concertgoers’ heads. The aim is for the venue to be an entirely immersive experience, right down to patrons’ haptic seats, so that guests can “feel” the show. The venue has environmental effect capabilities, too, meaning production staff can blow targeted gusts of wind at visitors who might be watching footage of a car racing by, or even introduce a scent into the room in an effort to heighten the overall experience. (Think Disney’s Soarin’ Around the World but on a much, much larger scale, with fewer dangling feet and potentially much more booze.)