The Crystal Ball: Vegas, Upcoming Projects, SOI in Black Vinyl

Original Story by Aaron J. Sams (2023-07-02)

It’s been a while since we did one of these. We’ll take a look through some of the information shared with us about the shows in Las Vegas, a look through some of the upcoming projects, and a few other bits and pieces.

A warning, some of what is below would be considered spoilers for the upcoming shows at the Sphere, and as such, we wanted to give a final chance to look away. Also, until officially announced by the band, we continue all of this to be rumour, but we do try to sort the good from the bad based on knowing our sources.

Starting last week, U2 are on their summer vacation. It started after Bono and The Edge participated in the Dalkey Book Festival, and Adam Clayton was at the Borris House Festival of Writing and Ideas. Traditionally each summer, U2 take about a month off from the day-to-day business of being a rock band, as do the team that they have working with them. Usually this falls later in the summer, but this year the vacation is early to accommodate the upcoming Las Vegas shows. It’s likely to be a bit quiet for the next few weeks on all fronts when it comes to U2.

The band has not yet rehearsed at the Sphere. But they are due to take over the venue in August. Rehearsals will start on location at the start of August, likely with crew set up taking up the earliest days before the band moves in. But just because they haven’t been rehearsing in Las Vegas, doesn’t mean that rehearsal hasn’t been happening. The band have been working through material in Europe as time permits. Rehearsals started in March and April, some without Bono who was on tour with his “Stories of Surrender” tour. We are told the band have the basics of the set list worked out. The band will reconvene the final week of July to move into full rehearsals, prior to moving into the Sphere.

The songs have been decided early, to allow Willie Williams and his team to build the accompaniment for the songs. This includes video footage, but may also incorporate other elements. Unlike most venues, there’s added elements to play with at the Sphere. The venue’s haptic seats make up 10,000 of the 17,600 seats in the venue, and allow for vibration, shifting the attendees, and more. There are also environmental effects possible as well including hot and cold air, wind, and even scent. Additionally each seat also functions as a speaker.

Willie has been at work playing with these new toys since last August. Surely that’s one of the longest lead times to any U2 show for developing material. He’s been working in a smaller scale venue developing video and other effects. Looking forward to see how these special effects get used.

Achtung Baby provided a good head start for video creation, as they knew early on that those songs would all appear in the show. Others we’ve been told are being worked on? “Walk On”, “Dirty Day” and “Your Song Saved My Life” have all been teased. And we do expect from things shared with us to see the Sphere light up in red all around at another point in the show. We’ve also been told that recent video shoot, recreating U2’s original video locations for “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”, were being “shot for the Sphere”, although it wasn’t confirmed that it was for U2.

Asked in May about what else they might play, the topic of Zooropa also came up in Rolling Stone magazine, with The Edge sharing, “Opening night comes just a few months after the 30th anniversary of Zooropa. I think there will be some nods to Zooropa. In our minds, the tours [for Achtung Baby and Zooropa] blended into one. But I think Achtung Baby will be the main focus.” Asked about the possibility of including “Numb”, The Edge shares, “That has been discussed. But it’s by no means sure if we’ll go there. We’ll see.”

Will they be playing different material night to night? The Edge shares, “Unfortunately, because of the amount of time and expense in creating some of these set pieces visually, it’s quite hard to be as quick on our feet and spontaneous as we might have been on other tours. But we still are determined that there will be sections of the show that will be open to spontaneity, and it will change from night to night. I don’t think anyone in the band will want to see the show on train tracks.”

Let the discussion begin…what other tracks do you expect to see in the Sphere? It’s still early yet, so who knows where the band will end up before September 29.

In late May, a team visited the sphere including members of U2, Willie Williams, Joe O’Herlihy and others to look at the progress of the venue to date. With less than 100 days to go before opening night, there is still some construction underway, but the venue is nearing completion. Bono shared that he was impressed by the sound in the venue. We’ve been told that the sound is so advanced, you can have people in different areas of the audience hearing completely different elements. An example was given that a film played at the sphere could be playing in different langages in different audience areas all at the same time because the sound can be so personalized.

We’ve been told that the images of the stage which were seen in the promotional video were early concepts presented to the band, and things have changed since those early ideas were suggested, and that the stage is unlikely to move as a few of those designs suggested.

As of yesterday, the Sphere is also now displaying moving graphics on the outside of the structure, beyond the colour blocking used to test screens early on. You can see some of the graphics in the video below.

Will there be additional shows added to the run at the Sphere? Maybe, but it sounds like it won’t be after the current dates. Shared by Rolling Stone this week, “U2 have committed to 25 shows between Sept. 29 and Dec. 16. There’s a chance they will add a handful more, but the Edge says the schedule is unlikely to bleed into 2024. At that point, a new headliner will take over.” Early on in the sales process, additional VIP packages were spotted by eagle-eyed fans for dates that have never been announced in the early part of November. Those VIP packages could even be purchased, but eventually Vibee who sells the packages has refunded those purchased.

What’s happening with a new album? We believe they have more work complete on the album than the band are letting on. Significant work was done on the project and we’ve been told that it’s been near completion for a while. The last we heard, they still are hopeful to have the album out soon after the Vegas residency wraps up in December. It is known that the band has been working on material in 2022, after the completion of Songs of Surrender, with recording in the Bahamas in January 2022, California in April 2022, and work being done in the summer in studios in Belfast and Dublin. As far back as 2018 the band were working on material for the new album.

But it sounds like the album won’t be coming until Larry Mullen has been given the all clear to tour again. Bono told the Los Angeles Times “We didn’t want to put either album out before we could play live, so we were waiting for our drummer to heal.” (Two albums refers to the rock album the band intend to put out next, as well as Songs of Ascent which is said to be a much more reflective album.)

While speaking with Variety in April The Edge, “makes it sound like a return to standard touring is in the cards as early as next year.”

Questioned about Larry’s health in mid-May, Bono shared that the recovery has been taking longer than anyone expected. We continue to send our wishes for a speedy recovery to Larry Mullen, and hope for a quick return to the band when he is ready. In the meantime, Bram has been rehearsing with the band, and has been said to have made a positive impression on the whole organization, and that all are impressed with the young man who will be filling some very big shoes.

We have been told that U2 have not yet signed off on any shows. And at this point, if an album has not yet been delivered to the label, a physical release before next Spring is becoming unlikely.

We’re keeping an eye on a few other projects that we hope to hear more of soon. North Star, a film being developed by Jim Sheridan is a fictionalized account of his life. The name of the film comes from the name of the hotel where Sheridan’s mother worked in Dublin when he was a boy. Bono and The Edge are said to be involved developing music for the film. The film is currently in casting, and it is expected that filming will start late summer, but up first, Sheridan is involved co-writing, directing and producing a film about Chief Standing Bear. Bono has previously contributed music to Sheridan’s films In the Name of the Father, In America and Brothers. Expect this one out next year.

Coming later this year? Peter and the Wolf will be hitting Max this Fall, based on art from Bono, and featuring music and narration by Gavin Friday. The animation will be a mix of 2D animation with 3D set pieces, based on Bono’s original art. The music and narration for the film will be newly recorded.

Finally we’re expecting to see Bono’s “Stories of Surrender“ to appear on Apple Plus later this year, or early next. And based on the special camera rigs present at some of the video shoots, and Apple’s recent announcement of Apple Vision, their AR headset, we expect that some of the filming was done with that new platform in mind and will give you an opportunity to watch the performance from different angles if you do have Apple Vision.

While looking ahead, we’re also looking back a bit this time out. A reminder that on July 12 the Emmy Nominations will be announced. The first round of voting ended on June 26, and one of the programs put forth for consideration was Bono & The Edge: A Sort of Homecoming with Dave Letterman. If nominated, the awards ceremony takes place in September.

And thanks to a post by Mario over on the U2 Music Collectors’ Group, we can share that that 2022 pressing of Songs of Innocence that was done to fill stock was done in a different colour than the orignal white vinyl. The newer European pressing is in black vinyl. We didn’t catch it originally, as stores were advertising it as the earlier European white pressing still, when in fact it is black. There’s nothing to distinguish between the two on the outside of the package but the new sleeve is a little less dark than the original. Catalog number and everything else remains the same. Some shops are listing it as black. One of them is here (Irish shop). There is nothing external that would suggest it is black vinyl, and the outer packaging and markings are identical to the original pressing of the album, although the cover is less dark in this new pressing.

IMAGE: Black and White Versions of Songs of Innocence

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