A Look Back at Sphere 2023
Original Story by Aaron J. Sams (2023-12-29)
U2 are performing for forty nights in the desert. Tempted by Sin City. The desert flooding each of those forty nights. U2 have been the first live musical act in history to play the largest sphere in the world. At this point 25 of the shows are complete and there are 15 shows left to go. How are things going?
We know when the shows were first announced, there was a lot of negative reaction to these shows. Larry wouldn’t be playing. Vegas is where washed up acts go to end their career. The band is revisiting the past again. They’ll never sell out five shows.
Since the shows have started, the conversation online has changed. Fans are talking about a band that is impressive night after night. Bono’s voice is strong, and sounds incredible via the Sphere audio system. Bram is winning hearts among the fans. Adam is just a pleasure to watch night after night. And the Edge? He may finally be on fire. And although not present, Larry Mullen is celebrated each night while he lets Bram take his seat while he recovers from multiple surgeries to fix years of damage from his drumming career.
How has the show been doing? The published numbers so far look at the shows up until the break in November. The average attendance each night is 16,512 people. The band is seeing an average face value ticket price of $390.96 for these shows (VIP package, box sales, and Platinum ticketing do not come into this figure.) And the reports so far have shown a sold out house each night.
By the end of the the 40 shows, U2 will have played to 660,480 people if the shows continue to sell at those rates, and will gross over $258 million on ticket sales. This will leave U2 with the second biggest residency of all time, coming in behind Celine Dion’s “A New Day / Celine” shows at Caesar’s Palace. It took her hundreds of shows to do what U2 have done in 40. They already hold the record for fastest selling residency. That’s an incredible amount of people coming to one place to see one band.
Initially, there were many tickets available right up to showtime, as part of the dynamic pricing model of tickets. But each have been listed as sold out by the time the show starts. And as word of mouth has gotten out about these concerts and the experience, tickets for the later shows have been harder to come by than the earlier shows. People want to see this show.
It’s easy to see what U2 wanted to be the first in the venue. Much of the press has been shared between the reviews of U2’s performance, and the venue itself. Sphere is making headlines everywhere. The displays on the outside have been going viral before U2 ever played a note in the building. The venue is drawing eyes, and U2 are drawing ears. There is hardly a day that goes by without some news story related to the incredible technology on display at Sphere, and U2’s use of the venue.
Forbes suggests “U2 may be at the beginning of a career renaissance” sharing, “The fact that so many thousands of people were willing to fly to Nevada to see them was an instant reminder of the power of U2” and “They not only proved they could still fill a massive venue, but they will forever be known as the first act to demonstrate the awe-inspiring power and possibilities of the space.” In the Los Angeles Times, the show is said to “set a new benchmark for the interplay between humans and technology”. Neil McCormick shared in The Telegraph, “What U2 are doing in the Sphere is going to have an impact on the whole of live entertainment.”
Kudos are given to the sound, the use of the screen, the band’s restraint in using the toys they have at their hands. And looking back at the year as a whole, USA Today named U2’s show the Top Concert in 2023 sharing, “It’s not a concert. It’s an experience.” and placing them ahead of Taylor Swift, and Beyoncé. And Consequence‘s list of top concerts for the year, also included the U2 shows among a list of up and coming artists. Even the Canadian national news did a review of the top entertainment stories of 2023, and U2 and Sphere were in the top ten, near the top of the list.
Some of the interest has been driven by other celebrities in attendance at the shows. Images of Dua Lipa at the show, videos of Ed Sheeran singing along to U2, and shows of Harry Styles, Lady Gaga and Kylie Minogue attending shows shared on social media have brought U2 to a new audience. But those named are just the tip of the iceberg, as celebrities included those from the world of music (Jon Bon Jovi, Snoop Dogg, Paul McCartney, Katy Perry), film and television (Harrison Ford, Matt Damon, Jessica Alba), sports (LeBron James, Tom Brady, Oscar de la Hoya, Maria Sharapova) and beyond (Oprah Winfrey, Elon Musk, Chelsea Clinton.) The interest from celebrities in seeing this venue, and this show have brought a lot of attention to the U2 performances. Lady Gaga appearing on stage made headlines worldwide, as did Harry Styles being spotted at a show with a newly shaved head.
From a fan perspective it isn’t just a concert. It’s a gathering of the tribe. These shows have been visited by fans from around the world. And U2 have given us Zoo Station this time out, part exhibit, part shop, part bar. It has been home to three different gatherings set up for Zootopians (U2.com members) since the show has opened with plans for more. It has given U2 fans a place to gather, a place to hang out with others, and a meeting point to head off to other fan-organized gatherings. The grounds of Sphere have also become a gathering point, for old friends to catch up, and new friends to be made.
Is everything perfect? No. There’s been issues such as the dreaded overhang seats in the 100 sections, which reduce the view of the show. Platinum pricing has been in effect for ticket sales outside of the fan club. Vibee has been slow to release tickets, with most people seeing them in their account the week of the show. And there have been issues with the fan club sales, and verified fan processes which we have covered in other articles. There have been other issues with it being a new venue, and procedures still being established, which affected early shows but have since been worked out. And those hoping for a lot of variety each night haven’t seen much change in the set list throughout the first 25 shows. But overall the positives are outweighing all of these factors, Sphere employees are working hard to give fans the best experience possible.
The venue itself is ground breaking. U2 are playing some incredible shows during this residency. The clips we see shared on the Internet do not make a good substitute for being at the shows. The team here at U2Songs are looking forward to a chance to return to Sphere in 2024. We realise that not everyone is able to make the journey, and we’ll also be continuing our coverage each show in our Show Archives. And we do appreciate everyone who has taken time out from their own treks to Las Vegas to share information with us to pass along.
U2 have made a splash this year in 2023. News outlets have taken notice of them again, like they haven’t for some time. It will be interesting to see how U2 follows on this wave of good press after the shows in Las Vegas wrap in 2024. Early in the New Year we’ll take a look at what we expect to come next.