I’m a spirited, Gen X rock music fan who loves attending live concerts. Over the years, I’ve been fortunate to see a lot of acts big and small from the ‘80s and ‘90s, either in their prime when I was younger or now on the retro circuit. I’ve even seen my favorites, U2 and Bruce Springsteen, on multiple occasions.

Each live experience is a unique treat. It was a thrill seeing U2 five previous times, but my favorite will always be the first time I saw them during the Joshua Tree tour in 1987 with 66,000 others at the Los Angeles Coliseum. U2 was arguably at its peak touring for its best album, and I was a freshman in college in Southern California who made the last-minute decision to skip out on studying for a final the next day and head to a show with two other students I had never met before.

Thirty years later I jumped at the chance to see U2′s anniversary Joshua Tree tour, this time with my wife and friends at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara. It was a kick to hear the band play the album’s songs in order, and U2 can still conjure enough magic to enchant an arena crowd.

However, we concluded after the show that the band had lost a step to time and age, just as we have. In particular, Bono’s voice, which was a rocker war cry at best to begin with, didn’t have the range it once did.

U2 presents the award for best pop vocal album remotely from the Sphere in Las Vegas during the 66th annual Grammy Awards on Sunday, Feb. 4, 2024, in Los Angeles. | Chris Pizzello

Therefore, when the U2:UV tour at the MSG Sphere tour engaged late last year, I dragged my heels and decided against going. I didn’t want to pay the lofty ticket prices and didn’t want to travel to Las Vegas. I also thought the best days of experiencing the band live were in the past.

But then I kept hearing buzz about the Sphere shows in media and from friends who rallied to see the concerts. The buzz built for me over time into an itch — and then a rash I had to scratch, and I found myself eventually convincing my wife that we had to make the trip. My closing argument: When are we going to be able to see U2 in the Sphere again?

So we headed to Vegas for the Friday, Feb. 23 show, and U2 did not disappoint in the band’s 37th show at the venue. Its strategy of again playing an entire album, this time 1991′s “Achtung Baby,” was rewarding to hear. It also mixed in an acoustic set of Rattle and Hum songs and closed with some of its top anthems, all while The Edge awed the crowd as usual with his cosmic guitar bravado.

And while U2 was exceedingly solid as a band, in many ways it was how they used the Sphere and the overall Sphere experience that steals the show. The structure is an absolute game changer when it comes to an immersive concert experience. To try and describe it, I’ve been saying the experience is “concert meets amusement park ride.”

As U2 plays its final shows in the venue this weekend, here’s a look at what a concert at the Sphere is like.

People arrive during the opening night of the Sphere, Friday, Sept. 29, 2023, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher) | John Locher

The Sphere consumer experience

For starters, the Sphere is simply a marvel to see from the outside. It’s literally a new attraction on the Vegas strip that draws you in the second you see it. It’s not so much the messages being displayed in lights on its 580,000-square-foot LED display exterior that makes it marvelous, it’s more the sphere shape itself mixed into the Strip’s building landscape.

My wife and I walked over to it before the show to know the route we were going to take and to get some steps in, and we found dozens of people standing outside it admiring the structure and taking pictures. We did the same while we also bought concert T-shirts at a merchandise post outside.

Next, before the show as we entered the building, the Sphere entry points and lobby have a compelling vibe to them. With cool blue accent lighting and bright white walls in an otherwise more darkly lit foyer, it’s like waiting for a ride on Space Mountain at Disneyland instead of entering a concert venue.

Navigating the Sphere once inside is fairly simple, too, as escalators or elevators take you to your seating levels (we had a seat in Section 407, so it was the third escalator up or the seventh floor if you chose the elevator). And concessions are well thought out with bars and cafes on each floor along with numerous grab-and-go stations like at an airport.

Likewise, Sphere staff are everywhere and eager to help and serve. Of course, it’s a new venue, so we’re in the honeymoon period of the consumer experience, but the staff truly were plentiful, helpful and pleasant.

The Sphere concert-goer experience

On to the show, and again, the Sphere is a game changer. The Sphere interior is a massive floor-to-ceiling wraparound 160,000-square-foot LED display like an IMAX screen that swirls around you, delivering 16K-resolution video in this show that makes you feel like part of the event versus just watching it.

Also like an IMAX theater, you get a great view of all the dazzling content in the higher rows so the best seats aren’t necessarily in the lower sections (unless you want to see the band more closely, although they’re shown on the larger background screens frequently as well).

Speaking of the dazzling content, we were enthralled by the cybercode flashed at the end of “The Fly” to the seemingly live background of Las Vegas during “Atomic City” to the exploding sphere during “With or Without You” that gives way to the mural of what Bono called “all God’s creatures great and small” during the closing “Beautiful Day.”

Additionally, we found the acoustics to be pleasing overall, not so loud you needed ear plugs and balanced out with the all the right equalization. And we loved that our chairs in our section vibrated at different parts of the show, especially during hard-rocking songs like during the intro of “Until the End of the World.” Yet another one of those “concert meets amusement park ride” elements.

Finally, the Sphere experience isn’t complete without meeting and chatting with fellow U2 fans who attended from all over the world. There was a genuine camaraderie among the audience who came to warmly embrace the band and their songs, and we met couples from Alabama, Ohio, Massachusetts and more. One couple from Toledo who sat in the row behind us told us their wedding song was “Beautiful Day” and they hoped U2 played it.

Of course, it was the closing song under the giant mural, and we stole a look back at the couple as they shared an elated hug and a kiss as the song began. A lovely ending to a beautiful day and concert experience.

U2 wraps its residency on March 2, and it’ll be interesting to see how the Dead & Company fare compared to the U2 experience when its shows start in May. Regardless, if you’re a live music fan, consider making the trip as the Sphere is the star of the show.

Daniel Francisco is vice president of marketing for Deseret News.