Life

Jake O'Kane: My four days of sphere and loathing in Las Vegas with U2

Jake O'Kane

Jake O'Kane

Jake is a comic, columnist and contrarian.

As a teetotal, coeliac, non-gambler, Jake is far from won over by the charms of Las Vegas...
As a teetotal, coeliac, non-gambler, Jake is far from won over by the charms of Las Vegas... As a teetotal, coeliac, non-gambler, Jake is far from won over by the charms of Las Vegas...

WHEN my wife mentioned U2 had announced they were doing a 25-date residency in Las Vegas, I knew it was time to apply for a US visa. Having missed celebrating significant birthdays and wedding anniversaries due to the Covid lockdown, taking her to see her beloved U2 in such an iconic location was too good an opportunity to miss.

This is despite, if I’m being honest, the fact that my disinterest in U2 pales in comparison to my downright hatred of Las Vegas. We’d visited the city 26 years ago and I found it a soulless wasteland, populated with drugged, drunk, and desperate people all trapped in a man-made version of purgatory called casinos.

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We arrived late evening, and as our plane banked towards Vegas, the city popped from the darkness of the surrounding desert like the Earth photographed from space. Every passenger strained to spot the ‘Sphere’, the new venue in which U2 were playing. Spotting it proved disconcerting as the Sphere had turned into a 516ft eyeball staring directly at me.

 

From both the air and up close, the Sphere is the embodiment of ethereal beauty, appearing not of this world. The statistics alone are mind-bending: costing an estimated $2.3 billion, its internal screen covers 4 acres with the world’s largest and highest resolution display.

Each of the venue's seats is equipped with its own immersive sound system, which made it feel as if the band were playing in your living room. On the outside the ‘exosphere’ or exterior screen has a square footage of 580,000 made up of 1.2 million LED pucks, creating life-like animations and video clips.

With some Americans annoyed that a ‘foreign’ band were opening such an iconic venue, the show from U2 proved all detractors wrong – including me.

In a masterful performance they miraculously managed to merge music and cutting-edge technology into what, at times, felt like a completely new art form.

While other bands would have gone overboard the boys from Dublin curtailed themselves, ensuring the stunning graphics augmented rather than swamped their music.

The level of self-discipline involved was impressive as the sphere offers an endless palette of possibilities. Any video, image or sound is now available within this completely immersive venue.

Having seen them play in the past at both Croke Park in Dublin and the SSE in Belfast, the Sphere provided a completely new U2 experience. Whilst in other venues the band were barely discernible dots on stage, in the Sphere they jumped to eye level, so close as to appear touchable.

The downside of such intimacy was noticing how old they all looked. Bono, while still nimble for his 63 years, had a head of hair no longer the colour God intended but created from a bottle of a strange hue. While The Edge had weathered the storm of ageing well, it was Adam Clayton who looked even better now than in the past. Drummer Larry Mullen Jr wasn’t in attendance, unable to perform due to recovering from shoulder surgery, although he was ably replaced by stand-in, Bram van den Berg.

After the show, and along with most of the audience, we walked outside to stand in wonderment at the base of the behemoth orb as it pulsated in psychedelic colours.

On a cycle of videos and animations, it morphed into a slowly revolving Earth, then an advertisement for an upcoming boxing match before switching to the blinking eye I’d seen from the plane. I’d have been happy to walk back to our hotel, but my wife insisted we wait until an animated yellow emoji face appeared – don’t ask me why – which took another 40 minutes.

Even a curmudgeon of my proportions must admit it would be worth travelling to Las Vegas to see the Sphere alone. Thankfully, if rumours prove true you won’t have to travel that far, as London may be planning to build one of its own – only bigger.

As for Vegas, hopefully that’s the last time I’ll set foot in the place. As a teetotal, coeliac, non-gambler, its many concupiscent attractions were wasted on me. At times I felt like a character out of Father Ted, shaking my head in bewilderment whilst passing ladies walking on the Strip wearing only G-strings charging $20 for a picture.

They say that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Happily, unlike most travellers to the city, my money didn’t stay in Vegas as I managed four days without gambling one cent...

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