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Let Me In The Sound: A U2Tours Review of U2:UV

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Let's start with the short version and just say this: I have never seen a concert like U2:UV, and I likely never will again. With so many photos and videos of this show making their way around social media, it was fair to wonder if the full effect of that massive high-definition screen would be ruined without the element of surprise. Those fears were unfounded. It’s tough to find the words to describe the experience in person because you really need to see if for yourself. The inside of the Sphere felt like a set of virtual reality goggles for your whole body, like the world’s largest Oculus Quest or Vision Pro. The concept is attractive regardless of whether or not you’re a U2 fan, making the Sphere itself as much of a draw as U2 is. But while there were a sizable number of attendees who came to see the Sphere, as U2 fans we came to see U2, and they did not disappoint. 

U2 simply dazzled in their Friday the 13th performance in Las Vegas. Musically, they proved once again that they are among the best, if not the best, live acts of all time. Even without Larry (and we’ll get to that in a moment), they were the same tightly knitted band we've come to expect each tour. Each song sounded fresh, new, and powerful, partly due to the state-of-the-art sound system, but mostly due to their prowess and Bono’s larger-than-life stage presence. It was a great band at the top of their game doing what they do best. The Achtung Baby tracks were perfect, faithful arrangements. The Rattle and Hum turntable was a nice break, and I particularly appreciated hearing a little Songs of Surrender flair in “All I Want Is You.” The return of “Where The Streets Have No Name” was predictably chill-inducing, especially as it began with the stage bathed in red as Bono sang a little snippet of “Moment of Surrender.” U2 filled the Sphere with music in a way not many bands are capable of. In fact, the screen could have been broken and dark for the entire concert and it still would have been worth the money and effort spent traveling to the Nevada desert. That’s U2! That’s what they do. Things like the visuals and sensory experience are bonuses.

But wow, what a bonus the Sphere is. That screen was so crystal-clear it made each band member look like a giant, and each scene looked so real that you felt transported to a different reality. The screen’s hyperrealistic crispness creates illusions of movement. At various points, we floated, we rose, and we flew. We stood above the Las Vegas strip, we floated on an ocean of mercury, and we witnessed the desert at dawn. It was intense and made me wonder what other bands have music big enough to match or outpace that intensity. There aren’t many, which makes U2 all the more appropriate a pairing for this giant video ball. Speaking of sound, I have never heard a large venue sound this clear and crisp. There was no muddiness or distracting echos of a sports arena. It was just pure music, well-balanced and mixed, and not overly loud. At times, the sound and visuals together were so impressive I felt stunned and unable to do anything other than just stand there and take in the sights and sounds without any thoughts in my head. It didn’t take away from the music or the performance; rather it left me with an unforgettable memory of a superb concert in Las Vegas. My only regret is that I only went to one show and wasn’t able to have a second go at it to appreciate the details that I missed. 

The elephant in the room was Larry Mullen Jr., or rather, his absence. Bono mentioned Larry once while thanking fill-in drummer Bram van den Berg, and it was nice to hear his name and know that he’s still U2’s drummer even if he’s not actually on stage at the moment. A number of fans have made a big deal about this, but this is the sort of thing that happens to bands when they reach their 60s and have been working frequently since their teens. Time comes for us all, even Larry Mullen Jr. That said, Bram van den Berg is a worthy sit-in and more than held his own. If you closed your eyes it was difficult to hear any difference, which is a credit to Bram’s ability. After a song or two, it was easier to accept the new face on the screen as we got lost in the music. Bram did a great job, and U2 gave him some of the spotlight in kind. Larry should be proud.

It’s not easy to avoid detractors on social media. There are plenty who find problems with the show because it’s not a traditional U2 experience. I understand these concerns, but that’s what I found charming about the show. U2 has always pushed their comfort zones and done something they’ve never done before. We’re used to Willie Williams building a concert experience that brings the band closer to the crowd with catwalks, stages that traverse an entire arena floor, or a claw so large it makes a stadium seem small. This time, they’re using the Sphere to bring us into the show. Remember the feeling of being “inside the heart” in 2001 on the Elevation Tour? They’ve taken that experience and blown it up to fit 18,600 people. It may not be for everyone, but it’s a very “U2” thing to do, and fitting for a city of excess like Las Vegas.

Brian Betteridge, 2023