Looking back on U2’s performances in Las Vegas

Updated May 10, 2018 - 1:45 pm

“Hold your breath” the post instructs breathlessly.

Said command can be found on U2’s website.

It’s part of the announcement for a new augmented reality app meant to be downloaded prior to attending a show on the band’s recently launched “Experience + Innocence Tour.”

“Inside the venue, before the band arrives on stage, hold your breath for a specially curated AR scene-setter — triggered by the 100-foot-long LED wall running the length of the arena floor. Then check out the opening song,” the news release reads.

Tour after tour, U2 has labored to set the rock band bar for cutting-edge concert stage productions, the aforementioned app being the group’s latest innovation.

With U2 returning to town for a pair of shows this weekend, let’s take a look back at all of the group’s Vegas tour stops and what made each outing special (excluding a one-off appearance at the iHeartRadio music festival in 2016).

Outing: Joshua Tree Tour

Vegas date: April 12, 1987, Thomas & Mack Center

U2’s post-show ride for the group’s Vegas debut: a vehicle normally used for transporting soiled undergarments.

That’s right, U2 departed its first local show in a laundry van, having recruited look-alikes to leave the venue in a limousine, distracting fans so that the band could head downtown and shoot the iconic video for “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” on Fremont Street.

The show came five days after “Joshua Tree” hit No. 1 for the first time on the Billboard album chart, and the Irish rockers were on the verge of becoming the biggest band in the world.

Still, the Vegas date, which drew a good crowd of 8,637 fans (out of a total capacity of 9,700), was the only arena date of the tour’s two U.S. legs not to sell out.

Outing: Zoo TV Tour

Vegas date: Nov. 12, 1992, Sam Boyd Silver Bowl

If the boob tube really was the opiate of the masses — as socially conscious rap troupe The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy contended on “Television, the Drug of a Nation,” the track that was played prior to U2 taking the stage — this production was akin to an addict’s overdose.

A cheeky commentary on the desensitizing powers of excessive modern media consumption, the tour was posited on sensory overload: The production employed 180 crew members, boasted a million-watt sound system weighing 30 tons, required a full-fledged television control room to coordinate all the visuals on the 36 video screens and even had full-sized cars dangling from the rafters.

The outing remains iconic: Rolling Stone listed Zoo TV among the 50 Greatest Concerts of the Last 50 Years.

The band drew a crowd of 27,774 here, a substantial number considering the city’s smaller market size back then, but it was still well short of the show’s 37,011 capacity.

This would be the last time that a Vegas U2 show had unsold seats.

Outing: Popmart Tour

Vegas date: April 25, 1997, Sam Boyd Stadium

What did the 12-foot-wide olive say to the 40-foot lemon-shaped disco ball?

Trick question!

Prefabricated fruits are known for being tight-lipped. Besides, what words could really do the aforementioned stage props justice?

Well, perhaps “ ‘Spinal Tap’-ish” when it comes to the latter, as U2 got stuck in the motorized contraption, which delivered the musicians to the stage for their encore, on multiple occasions, including the tour-opening Vegas stop.

Costing a cool $100 million to produce, the Popmart Tour was even more over-the-top than the band’s previous outing, with a gigantic arch towering above the stage and a gargantuan video screen bigger than the three-dozen Zoo TV screens combined.

The crowd of 36,742 marked the band’s first sold-out Vegas gig.

Outing: Elevation Tour

Vegas date: Nov. 18, 2001, Thomas & Mack Center

Outing: Vertigo Tour

Vegas date: Nov. 4-5, 2005, MGM Grand Garden

Having decisively won the stadium rock arms race that pitted U2 against … U2, the band scaled things down significantly on its next two treks.

Focusing on arenas rather than stadiums — at least in the U.S. — the goal here was to make big rooms feel small with large catwalks that encircled a portion of the crowd on the floor and a more visceral, in-your-face vibe that harkened back to the band’s first tours.

During the Elevation gig, the band set the attendance record at the Thomas & Mack Center by drawing 17,771 fans.

Four years later, U2 lured a combined crowd of 31,863 to a pair of sold-out shows at the MGM Grand Garden.

So while the venues may have been smaller, the box office receipts remained outsize.

Outing: U2 360° Tour

Vegas date: Oct. 23, 2009, Sam Boyd Stadium

It looked like a giant version of one of those metal pincher thingies from a claw-crane arcade game had descended upon Sam Boyd Stadium to gobble up Bill Clinton and Paris Hilton.

Yes, both the former president and current reality show afterthought were in the house when U2 played its biggest Vegas show yet in front of a sold-out crowd of 42,213.

The tour’s “spaceship-on-four-legs” stage design was so massive and elaborate that it required daily production costs of $750,000 and upward of three days to dissemble.

It paid off: The trek remains the top-grossing tour of all time, having made more than $730 million.

“Shout for joy if you get the chance,” Bono told the Sam Boyd crowd during the show.

His accountant surely did.

Contact Jason Bracelin at jbracelin@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0476. Follow @JasonBracelin on Twitter.

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