I have seen the future of rock, as Jon Landau famously said, and it’s not a performer, but a venue—the Godzilla-sized golf ball of a hall in Las Vegas, named the Sphere.
U2’s show there last weekend was unlike anything I’ve seen in my years of concert-going. The sound was perfect, the videos, which covered the whole of the dome, from floor to ceiling, were mind-blowing and it was the apotheosis of the art of presenting a concert to an audience of 18,600 people.
It’s the largest spherical structure in the world at a cost of $2.3 billion. It has what looks like a typo–167,000 speakers– and features the highest definition LED screen ever made. It has haptic seats and artificial wind that pumps pleasing scents. There is also enough room in the spacing of the seats to be comfortable and each seat has high speed internet, which you will need to blow away your friends with videos.
I almost don’t have words to describe the two-hour performance of the band’s “Achtung Baby” album, along with some greatest hits.
A few impressions:
- At one point they turned night into day. The sun rose, the dome seemed to fall away and we were all standing in the Nevada desert. This wasn’t like some Disney trick, where you feel skeptically manipulated the whole time. It was a complete take over of the senses. The light, the images, the air…it was like a 4-D experience. We were out there together and had a great band providing the soundtrack.
- Not only could you hear every instrument more distinctly than on the best home stereo but you could really hear every word singer Bono said between songs, as if he were speaking directly to you in the front row. How many shows have I been to where the between-song patter was more of a blur of static than genuine communication? And no performer was better suited to be heard than this Irish poet, who spoke about religion, war, faith, marriage.
- There are few bad seats in the house (some blocked views under an overhang in the 100 section). The rows are steep and tough to navigate, but not only does every row feel closer to the band than in any other arena, but the visuals extend from roof to floor, and can be seen as well from the highest and furthest seats.
- Since the Beatles played baseball stadiums where they could barely be heard, rock shows have focused more on packing the house than on sound, with the exception of a few acts: Pink Floyd; the Dead; Springsteen; Taylor Swift. But none has devoted as much passion to the art of large concerts as U2, from 1993’s circus-like Zooropa tour to 2014’s Innocence + Experience show, where they built a screen down the middle of the arena.
What’s the local angle? We are looking at building a new arena in Santa Cruz for the Warriors, which will also feature music performances. Let’s make sure they give us the best in sound and lights for artists, not just sports. This thing will be dated the minute they build it, but we should make sure they go for the best quality for sound and vision.
As for the Sphere (which is really only 80 percent round) I’m going back ASAP, even though the trip costs about a month’s salary. I’ve waited a lifetime for a venue that made musical magic instead of killing it and I need to see it again.
Quote of the Week
“The two most powerful warriors are patience and time” —Leo Tolstoy
The Watsonville City Council in March will consider either shortening the crosswind runway at Watsonville Municipal Airport—or deactivating it altogether—which is the airport’s effort to meet Federal Aviation Administration guidelines and keep its pilots safe.
Either move would open up portions of the city for development such as housing and businesses, Watsonville Principal Planner Justin Meek said.
Included in the master plan update—which was paid for with a $550,000 grant from the FAA—is potentially lengthening the 4,500-foot main runway to 5,181 feet, reconfiguring several taxiways, improving airfield drainage and boosting security for the pedestrian and vehicle access gates.