Timed perfectly to Friday’s harvest moon that illuminated the dusty Las Vegas skyline, Sphere — Madison Square Garden’s epic $2.3 billion immersive live entertainment venue and the world’s largest spherical structure — opened its doors for the first time. Joining the packed house of 20,000 attendees, a parade of music-loving celebrities made their way to the technological marvel for the main event, the debut of U2:UV Achtung Baby Live At Sphere. A-listers also gawked at the visionary achievement of Jim Dolan, MSG CEO and executive chairman and CEO of Sphere Entertainment.
Aaron Paul, Andre Agassi, Bryan Cranston, Connie Britton, Dakota Fanning, Darren Aronofsky, Diplo, Elizabeth Banks, Jon Hamm, Josh Duhamel, Jane Seymour, Luke Wilson, Maria Sharapova, Mario Lopez, Oscar De La Hoya, Skylar Astin and Steffi Graf made appearances on the carpet. Inside, Katy Perry and Orlando Bloom watched the show alongside Lauren Sanchez and Jeff Bezos. From the stage, Bono name-checked Paul McCartney, Dr. Dre, Jimmy Iovine and Snoop Dogg — who were all in attendance, as were Oprah Winfrey, Gayle King, Ava DuVernay and LeBron James. During his thank you speech, Bono acknowledged industry heavy-weights Irving and Jeffrey Azoff, Live Nation’s Michael Rapino and Arthur Fogel, managers Paul McGuinness and Guy Oseary, set designer Willie Williams, creative director Gavin Friday and many more from U2‘s past and present team.
On the red carpet, Dolan told The Music news, “I got it done, and it turned out pretty much the way I wanted it to. I really feel good about it,” explaining why he believes U2 is the ideal artist to open the Sphere. “They got it from day one. They believed in what we were doing. Once they saw it, they said, ‘We’re going to be first.’”
While he wouldn’t share any spoilers on who’s next — rumors run the gamut from Phish to Harry Styles to Billy Joel — Dolan believes Sphere has the power to attract all. “Every artist is going to want to play here. I think every artist will be challenged by this venue. It’s a new media. It’s not just the sound; it’s the visuals. It’s the experience. They’re setting a bar here, so let’s see what happens next,” he said.
Aronofsky, who directed the first Sphere Experience Postcard from Earth, debuting on Oct. 6, shared that he was introduced to the project by Tribeca Enterprises’ Jane Rosenthal. “She said there is this ‘crazy thing happening.’ … At that point, it was a deck. It just had a bunch of pictures and a big dream.”
Postcard, which was shot in groundbreaking 18K, will be shown across the Sphere’s 160,000 square foot immersive display plane and showcase the “magnificent beauty of life on earth.”
“I could see that 18K images and shooting wildlife would be something super exciting and different,” Aronofsky continued. “Everything was different — the cameras to the edit to data storage had to be reinvented. The final film is half a petabyte.”
The director also had the opportunity to talk to U2 before their debut. “I had a few conversations with my heroes. It was talking about different sound issues. They got to hear the sound system before I did and having the ears that they do they helped me with my composer,” he said.
Like most of the celebrities present, Hamm was in awe of the venue: “I’ve only ever been on the outside of the sphere if we’re talking about the globe, so it’s exciting for me to be on the inside of one.” Elizabeth Banks noted she has been scrolling photos of it on Instagram for months, saying, “I’ve been obsessed. I can’t imagine what’s inside. It almost feels like a giant piece of art like the Bellagio Fountains. I think you can see it from space.”
Luke Wilson first saw U2 perform on the 1980s Joshua Tree tour, teasing, “Tonight might be a little different than when I saw the band at the Tarrant County Convention Center in Fort Worth, Texas, in 1987.” His wishlist for future Sphere concerts includes “Willie Nelson, Neil Young, The Rolling Stones.”
Paul and Cranston, who feature their Dos Hombres mezcal prominently throughout the bars at Sphere, first toured the venue several months ago. “Minds were blown,” Paul remembered. “They turned on the screen just for a moment to have us experience what it’s like — and it took us on a journey. I can’t wait to see what it’s like with U2 orchestrating all of that. U2 is one of the biggest rock bands ever and this is arguably the greatest music venue on the planet.” Cranston added, “With Bono, it will be something that is curated, not just arbitrary.”
Adam Scott applauded the new look it gives to the Las Vegas skyline: “It’s unlike anything else I’ve seen before, that’s for sure.”
Vegas residents Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf explained they have watched the structure emerge for the past four years. “We’ve been able to see it grow. When we fly in, we’ve been anticipating, ‘What is it gonna look like?’” she said. “It’s not easy to add to this city in a way that stands out,” Agassi noted.
David Dibble, CEO of Sphere Ventures, said the venue started out as a scratch drawing that he and Dolan came up with in the middle of the night. “Two wild-eyed guys in New York said, ‘Let’s do this.’ We don’t have a clue here. We’re gonna do it. And here we are,” he explained.
“U2 is so into it. They’re thinking of ways to exploit the mediums like, ‘Wait a minute. That’s a great idea,’” he continued. “Jim has always said, ‘We need to create a palette, an artist’s palette, and then let the artists come in and decide what to do.’ U2 is doing that in a big way.”
As the red carpet wound down, guests found their way inside where they interacted with five Aura humanoid “spokesbots” to find their way through the massive galactic-lit structure. Attendees were notified to be in their seats by 8:20 — the show started at 8:37 p.m. — as a car-driven DJ booth circulated the crowd. What came next was exactly two hours of mind-numbing visuals, pristine vocals and an experience that left mouths agape from the theatrical presentation designed by Stufish, Es Devlin and Willie Williams based on Brian Eno’s turntable. U2:UV featured the entire Achtung Baby album as well as other major tracks played by Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton and Bram van den Berg, sitting in for U2 drummer Larry Mullen Jr.
The U2:UV echo effect rippled over to the adjacent Venetian Resort, which hosts the free immersive “Zoo Station: A U2:UV Experience” fan portal. Created by Live Nation’s Vibee, which sells travel packages around the 25-concert series, Zoo Station allows fans to explore Achtung Baby through interactive experiences; ‘Zoo TV Cinema’ curated By The Edge; a gallery of Anton Corbijn images of the band; a pop-up shop of exclusive merch and VIP lounges and happy hours with U2-themed drinks.