If any artist or band has earned the creative right to launch a residency-scale show at the insane MSG Sphere in Las Vegas, U2 most definitely has. For decades, U2 has pioneered the fusion of digital technologies into their stunning live shows, such as Zoo TV from 1991, PopMart from 1997, and Innocence and Experience in 2015.
The MSG Sphere includes a massive 16K resolution, half-dome LED screen that will put the audience into a close approximation of a full-scale, full-surround VR experience. But this is actually a well-proven format with a long heritage: Starting in the 1970’s, IMAX projection was adopted to the Omnimax planetarium dome format for stunningly immersive shows. Then, in 2001, Walt Disney Imagineering took Omnimax in a new direction when it launched the Soarin’ attraction, combining a motion-base seating system in an Omnimax screen. Thus the birth of the now ubiquitous “flying theater” format at entertainment centers. But the sneaky trick of flying theaters is that the motion base seating actually moves very little – most of the apparent sense of motion that guests experience is from the massive surround screen. I remember vividly being a kid visiting Boston’s Museum of Science in the 1980’s and experiencing the sensation of movement and hyper-reality from the beautiful cinematography and encompassing vistas of the various IMAX movies morphed onto the dome. It is truly “virtual reality” at real-life, or even larger-than-life, scale.
Direct-view LED screens, meanwhile have been on their own ceaseless march towards improved quality and plummeting price. It was only a matter of time before even massive projection-based IMAX/Omnimax dome screens were replaced with LED direct-view dome screens. Hence, the MSG Sphere.
So this brings us to the 4 lads from Dublin who have put together some of the most insane concert tours in history. So if Willie Williams needs some creative help in putting the show together, I thought I might offer these 5 ideas, playing with layers of reality, motion, scale, anamorphic effects and data-driven visuals:
#1: The audience is One with the band
U2 has stated the audience is the 5th member of the band.
Done just right, the “screen” could be imperceptible from the “reality” of the rest of the theater space, especially at the start of the show before the audience realizes what-is-what. So I would take the smallest possible 16K camera with a fish-eye lens (like some super GoPro) and suspend it on invisible fishing line at the perfect point in the center of the sphere, aiming at the audience. The audience would be reflected live into the screen as they enter the arena. How long would it take the audience to recognize, if ever, that they were looking at a mirror of themselves and not into a “in the round” configuration?
And here’s the kicker: I would have a small “B-stage” hidden on the real audience side – maybe tucked in by some fake lighting/audio “tent” out about 1/3 up the orchestra level. So when the band starts playing, the audience is staring at themselves along with the band. A very trippy reversal of the tired “B-stage” trope.
#2: Inducing Vertigo
Vertigo is one hell of a rock song: It makes you feel like I have to hang-on to something just to listen to it. It reminds me of the old Dean Martin joke: You’re not drunk if you can lie on the floor without holding on!
And with a massive16K surround screen, we’re going to take people on a mind-bending Mach-10 RIDE when Edge strikes up that supersonic guitar riff.
I can just imagine the safety warning: Ladies and gentleman, for your safety we ask that you please remain seated during the performance of Vertigo…
#3: Babes at the feet of giants
Haven’t you ever dreamed of sitting in a private, impromptu music jam by Bono, Edge, Larry and Adam? I want a beautifully simple sequence where the boys each take a seat in an intimate half-circle, with a discrete camera trained on each – but projected on the massive dome 3-stories tall so every audience member feels like they are eye-to-eye with the band in a sort-of personal VR experience. I want the clearest, unencumbered view of each band member from head-to-toe and to see every note each of them plays! No camera cuts, no effects, just a simple live experience but at a scale and presence that is simply not possible in any other digital medium.
#4: Bullet the blue sphere
U2 has often integrated commentary on world events into their shows in intensely moving & highly artistic ways. Maybe it is time they make people experience the horrors of war in first person “VR”? Remind the spoiled Las Vegas crowd that their peace and prosperity is a privilege many others in the world don’t have? What if an artillery attack struck the MSG Sphere in the middle of the performance – but the band played on?
Using 3D anamorphic/forced perspective effects, a media sequence could make it look like a blast blows through the sphere structure and LED panels, ripping a hole – not to the Las Vegas strip, but perhaps a view into a city of Ukraine. Like many of the most successful and visually powerful projection mapping effects, but this time 100% digital.
Perhaps during the next song, nature could “heal” and “reclaim” the damaged/dark structure. Or some other powerful hyper realistic anamorphic dream sequence…
#5:Where the streets are named Refik Anadol
U2 has an absolutely iconic moment in their live shows – now spanning over decades – for the magnificent opening of Where the Streets Have No Name. See above, for example, the amazing version from the ’91 Zoo TV Tour, where 80,000 Aussies reach – let’s say a luminous climax.
I want the same signature slow-build red-dawn-to-sunrise sequence – but this time visualized abstractly by Refik Anadol and using every single pixel and lumen produced by that massive LED wall. I want to absolutely BLOW the minds of the audience with the ultimate communal visual experience! Damn the torpedoes, sear their retinas and blow their alpha waves, I say!
I wish the creative teams working on this project success! U2 has been incredibly influential in my own personal journey of understanding the potential interplay of digital media within architectural and urban environments.
Every Surface a Screen
If you like these concepts and want to learn more about fusing digital into physical experiences, check out my recent Every Surface a Screen: Now What? presentation: