Updated September 18, 2023 - 9:01 am
U2 was back in Las Vegas with a blast on Saturday night. The band returned to the parcel that was the very birth of the city, 1 Main Street, and set off “Atomic City.”
That’s the band’s new single, a song all about Vegas.
Aside from the debut of the new song, the night’s primary purpose was to promote the band’s upcoming “U2:UV Achtung Baby” series at The Sphere. The production opens Sept. 29.
Bono referred to The Sphere at the end of the second run-through of the song.
“We’ll be playing at a little venue up the road, called The Sphere,” Bono said. Responding to a crowd member who had shouted about the dazzling Exosphere displays, the singer said, “Yeah, it’s next-level on the inside, too.”
The rock legends unveiled their latest video on a flatbed trailer behind a semi truck beginning behind the 3rd Street Stage on Fremont Street, and ending at the Carousel Bar. With the big rig as its stage, the band crept around DTLV, starting at 3rd Street, and ending with the main show on Main Street.
U2 brought its original lineup for shoot, including drummer Larry Mullen Jr., who played on the new single and video but is missing the shows at The Sphere because of an assortment of physical maladies. Bram van den Berg, the 40-year-old drummer of the Dutch pop-rock band Krezip is playing all The Sphere shows.
The Edge and Adam Clayton were in fine form. Bono gleefully shouted, “This is Fremont! This is The Edge!”
Bono mentioned Mullen was not in the plans for The Sphere, but was able to play what turned into a mini-reunion of the full band.
“The four of us recorded the song. Sadly, Larry Mullen Jr. won’t be with us at The Sphere,” the 63-year-old superstar said. “He doesn’t listen to doctor’s orders (laugh). Neither do many of us. But he is here tonight … Give it up for Larry Mullen Jr.!”
A huge cheer went up for the man who has played on all of U2’s albums and tour.
The song is expected to be in the new production, given its references to Las Vegas.
“I’m free, so unexpectedly!” Bono sang out to the 250 extras brought in to populate the stretch of Main Street in front of Plaza’s new Carousel Bar and facing Circa, Golden Gate and the SlotZilla zipline. “I’m free, from what’s in front of me!”
— John Katsilometes (@johnnykats) September 17, 2023
Those extras were paid $150, and provided pizza after the event. Many were frequent extras at big events, working in the background of video projects staged in Vegas. Most submitted an e-mail to the production when learning of staging plans They arrived at 4 p.m. and brought out at 11 p.m. to be ready for the performance.
When the truck rolled up, pulling its stage, the extras hustled to the street at the front of the band. Jason Wohlgemuth was among them. Wohlgemuth is an office manager for LA Comedy Clubs at The Strat and Edgewater in Laughlin. He worked as a paid extra for 14 years, including a role in “Sharknado 4: The 4th Awakens,”filmed at The Strat about a decade ago.
Asked if this was the most fun he’s had as an extra, Wohlgemuth said, “This one was up there, for sure. It’s going to be expensive to see them at The Sphere, so this was the next-best thing.
Bono referred to the audience, “They are now, if they weren’t before, part of the U2 family.” The front man also craned to observe his light-bathed surroundings. “Thank you, Mr. Plaza. Thank you, Circa.”
The song was dripping with Vegas flourishes. “I’ve got the key to the cages, waiting for my dice.” And, “I came here for the fight. I’m front row in Las Vegas. And there’s a big one on tonight.”
The vocals were live but music recorded, as Bono shouted at the start of one of the takes, “Roll track! C’mon!”
The “Atomic City” premiere was actually four separate takes at Plaza (and several others on 3rd Street and Casino Center). Bono referred to the song as “a rock ‘n’ roll 45 in the tradition of ’70s post-punk, Blondie, the Clash, some ’70s punk … We’ll take it from everywhere.”
As the crew set up yet another “Atomic City” shot, the band turned to a geared-down version of “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” with Bono turning to The Edge and saying, “Let’s just try it as a country song. It’s sort of a Saturday night-Sunday morning kind of a deal anyway. It’s a confession.”
That song’s video made Fremont Street famous. The band filmed the iconic clip in 1987, while on its “Joshua Tree” tour. The video was shot on short notice on a scant budget after U2’s show at the Thomas & Mack Center. The clip shows the band happening on unsuspecting tourists during a walk on pre-canopy Fremont Street.
More of the late-night hang w/ #U2 where #Vegas started, 1 Main Street. Following “Atomic City.” #Bono says, “A long time ago, we also recorded a video here … @U2 #Vegas @reviewjournal pic.twitter.com/EBrtQrLUKN
— John Katsilometes (@johnnykats) September 17, 2023
Staging for Saturday night’s loop around downtown began in the early afternoon. The band hit the Plaza stage just before midnight.
“They could have picked anywhere in the world to play, and they picked Carousel Bar,” Plaza CEO Jonathan Jossel said of the pop-up performance, produced with just 48 hours of planning.
Circa co-owner Derek Stevens was on-site, with his wife, Nicole. “I love #Vegas” was his succinct post.
“Atomic City” will be out just ahead of The Sphere shows. Having listened to the song several times, the sense here is U2 might have summoned the next Las Vegas anthem. “Atomic City” could take over where Elvis’ “Viva Las Vegas” left off.
“We hope you like it,” Bono said of the new tune. “It was written for you.”
John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His “PodKats!” podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @johnnykats on X, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.