For several years, a mysterious spherical structure has towered over the skyline of this desert playground, impressing visitors in recent months with its wraparound LED display that turns the giant orb into a planet, a basketball, or — more distractingly — a blinking eyeball. .
Now, finally, we have to go inside.
Sphere, the $2.3 billion project billed as the entertainment venue of the future, debuted this weekend with two U2 concerts.
Does Safeer live up to the hype? Are the interior photos as eye-catching as those outside? Is U2, the beloved Irish band now in the final stretch of their career, the right thing to do to name this massive arena trinket?
Yes, yes, and yes – with some caveats.
Describing the Sphere concert experience is a challenge, because there’s nothing quite like it. The effect is a bit like being in a giant planetarium or IMAX theater inside a giant spaceship.
Built by Madison Square Garden Entertainment, the Sphere is described as the largest spherical structure in the world. At 366 feet high and 516 feet wide, the partially hollow plaza could fit the entire Statue of Liberty, from pedestal to torch, comfortably inside.
Its cavernous, bowl-shaped theater has a stage in the basement, surrounded by what is said to be the world’s largest and most precise LED screen. The screen wraps around audience members and, depending on your seat location, can fill your entire field of vision.
In today’s world of entertainment and multimedia, overused buzzwords like “immersive” are thrown around a lot. But the Sphere’s wide screen and clear sound really deserve this rating.
I interviewed a few audience members after the show and they all raved about the venue.
“It’s a visually immersive experience… It was mind-boggling,” said Dave Zetig, who traveled with his wife, Tracy, from Salt Lake City for Saturday night’s show. “And they picked the right band to open for. We’ve been to concerts all over the world, and this is the coolest place we’ve been.
A spectacle, inside and out
The venue’s opening show is called “U2: UV Achtung Baby Live at Sphere,” a series of 25 concerts centered around the Irish band’s iconic 1991 album “Achtung Baby” and running until mid-December. Most shows were sold out, though the best seats were priced between $400 and $500.
The show kicked off on Friday night with a torrent of fanfare and a red carpet premiere attended by Paul McCartney, Oprah, Snoop Dogg, Jeff Bezos and dozens of other celebrities — some of whom may be wondering how they can book their own Sphere parties.
Next week will see the premiere of Postcard From Earth, a film directed by Darren Aronofsky that promises to take full advantage of the Sphere’s massive screen by offering viewers an immersive tour of the planet. More concerts will take place in 2024, although no performers have been announced.
Visitors can walk through alleys and through parking lots to reach Safir, just east of the Strip, although the easiest way is via a pedestrian walkway from the Venetian Resort, a partner in the project.
Once inside, you’ll encounter a high-ceilinged atrium with hanging carved telephones and a long escalator leading to the upper levels. But the real attraction is the stage and its wraparound LED panel, which contains 268 million video pixels. That sounds like a lot.
The display is so impressive and dominant that it sometimes overwhelms the live performers. Sometimes I didn’t know where to look – at the band playing right in front of me or at the dazzling images happening everywhere else.
Your idea of the perfect seat will depend on how closely you want to see the artist. Levels 200 and 300 are located at eye level in the middle of the huge screen, while seats on the lower level will be closer to the stage but may cause you to crane your neck to look up. And be careful: some seats at the back of the lower section obstruct the view.
The giant LED screen evokes spectacle and familiarity
The venerable band — Bono, the Edge, Adam Clayton and guest drummer Bram van den Berg, who replaced Larry Mullen Jr., who is recovering from surgery — sounded as enthusiastic as ever, moving with the agility of propulsive rockers (“Even Better Than Band driving rocker”). Something Real”) to the poems (“One”) and beyond.
U2 maintain a large, loyal following, write great songs and have long pushed the boundaries of technology – particularly on their Zoo TV tour – making them a natural fit for a ground-breaking venue like Sphere.
The band performed on a simple stage built in the shape of a turntable, with most of the four musicians rooted in the circular dish, although Bono wandered around the edges. Almost every song comes with animation and live footage on the huge screen.
Bono seems to embrace the Sphere’s trippy visuals, saying, “This whole place feels like a mind-warping distortion pedal.”
The wraparound screen evoked both scale and intimacy, as when Bono, The Edge and other band members appeared in 80-foot-tall video images projected above the stage.
Sphere’s producers promised cutting-edge sound, thanks to thousands of built-in speakers throughout the venue, and they did not disappoint. At some concerts, the sound is so muddy that you can’t decipher the patter of the performers on stage, but Bono’s lyrics were clear and crisp, and the band’s sound never felt strained or weak.
“I go to a lot of concerts and usually wear earplugs, but I didn’t need them for this concert,” said Rob Rich, who came from Chicago with a friend to attend the show. “It was very overwhelming” (there’s that word again), he added. “I’ve seen U2 eight times. That’s the norm now.”
Halfway through the show, the band left “Achtung Baby” to perform an acoustic medley of songs from “Rattle and Hum.” The visuals became simpler, and the stripped-down songs resulted in some of the night’s best moments — a reminder that while bells and whistles are nice, great live music is enough on its own.
Saturday’s show was Sphere’s second public event, and they’re still working out some bugs. The band started about a half-hour late — Bono blamed “technical issues” — and at one point the LED screen appeared to malfunction, freezing on a single image for a few minutes over several songs.
But more often than not, the images were stunning. At one point, the screen created a dramatic visual illusion that the ceiling of the venue was sloping toward the audience. While “trying to throw your arms around the world”, a real rope of knotted bedsheets is attached to a virtual balloon at the top.
“Where the Streets Have No Name” featured a sweeping time-lapse video of the Nevada desert, with the sun migrating across the sky above our heads. For a few minutes it felt like we were outside.
The Ball is an expensive gamble, and it remains to be seen whether other artists can creatively capitalize on its unique space. But the place is off to a promising start. If they can keep this up, we may be witnessing the future of live performance.
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