Night 1 setlist for U2:UV at the Sphere, Las Vegas, 29/09/23
It's been a little while! When U2 performed their most recent regular tour concert, in Mumbai on 15 December 2019, we expressed the wish that "the band retain the enthusiasm and vitality to bring their music to established and new audiences alike for many years to come". Over 3 years and 9 months have passed since then, and although a gap of about 3 years between major U2 tours is not unusual, the circumstances this time have certainly been exceptional with the global pandemic.
Now here we are, the band are playing live again, and they are back in spectacular fashion: opening the state-of-the-art Sphere venue in Las Vegas with a residency of 25 shows. The Sphere is impressively soundproofed, so we had almost no setlist spoilers from rehearsals ahead of opening night, unlike on past tours.
Larry Mullen Jr, who as a teenager posted the notice that led to the formation of the band that became U2, is sadly unable to perform at these shows. He has had surgery to address long-term injuries from the rigours of drumming, so Dutch drummer Bram van den Berg is taking his place behind the kit for these shows. This is the first gig since 26 November 1993 to not feature one of the four core members of the band—bass tech Stuart Morgan filled in for a "sick" (very hungover) Adam Clayton—and it is just the second show any member of the band has missed since the early days in the late 1970s before they had released any music. As Bono mentioned during the show, Larry last missed a gig in 1978.
The setlist featured 22 songs across a 16-song main set and 6-song encore. This included all 12 songs from Achtung Baby, including three not performed in full since 1992–93, but the album was not performed in order like The Joshua Tree was on the 2017 and 2019 tours. Instead, as many fans had speculated, the band chose to recall possibly their most famous tour.
The show began with a sequence of eight songs from Achtung Baby, in the same order as U2 had usually played during the first two legs of the Zoo TV Tour in 1992. This included Tryin' to Throw Your Arms Around the World for the first time since 10 December 1993. It was rehearsed in early August 2010 ahead of that year's European shows but not performed. This meant that, for a brief few minutes, this song held the record for the longest gap between performances of a U2 song, 29 years, 9 months, and 19 days—read on to see what exceeded it later in the set.
The other seven songs in this initial eight-song sequence had all been performed at shows during 2018–19. Four of them were performed reasonably often at tours in the 2010s, while three deserve emphasis. Zoo Station and The Fly, which opened the show, had only been performed sparingly since the final leg of the Vertigo Tour in late 2006. Between that tour and today, Zoo Station was performed 20 times—once on 24 September 2015 and 19 times in 2018—and The Fly was performed 15 times in 2011 and 13 times in 2018. And as for Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses, its live performances have been infrequent since 1992: it was played 15 times in 2005, once in 2006, and 22 times in 2018. Only on the European leg of Experience+Innocence has WGRYWH enjoyed any degree of security in the setlist, appearing at 20 out of 33 shows. Will it finally be a fixture again this year?
After the opening sequence of Achtung Baby songs, the band turned to the album that preceded it, performing four songs from Rattle and Hum. All I Want Is You was performed in front of a live audience for the first 30 October 2015 (it was also performed for a BBC taping on 16 November 2017). Desire and Angel and Harlem have shown up in setlists regularly over the years—they both featured at Joshua Tree 2019 shows, and Desire was the first song of the night that Bono had also performed on his recent solo Stories of Surrender Tour. And then came perhaps the most unexpected song of the night, Love Rescue Me, for the first time since 24 May 2011 and the 52nd time ever. Since the last night of the Lovetown Tour on 10 January 1990, it had only been performed at four 360 Tour shows, twice in December 2010 and twice more in May 2011.
The final four songs of the main set were the remaining four from Achtung Baby, and the performances of all four are notable. So Cruel appeared in a setlist for just the fifth time ever. It appeared four times in 1992: initially two verses snippeted at the end of Bad on 22 May 1992, and then three solo performances by Bono on Zoo TV's third leg, most recently on 15 September 1992. This was not just its first full-band performance ever, but also the longest gap between performances of a song at U2 concerts ever: 31 years and 14 days. Before tonight, the record was 29 years, 4 months, and 22 days for Trip Through Your Wires, and it was briefly held by Tryin' to Throw Your Arms Around the World earlier tonight.
What about the other three? Acrobat followed So Cruel, and it has only ever been performed on one other tour, 59 appearances on Experience+Innocence in 2018 (it was rehearsed, but not performed, in early August 1992). Next came Ultraviolet for the very first time in the main set rather than the encore—that's right, all of its previous 242 performances were in encores. And the last song of the main set was Love Is Blindness, for just the second time since 10 December 1993—and its one and only performance in between, on 1 March 2006, was spontaneous and only semi-complete. This time, we got a full band version with solo, and an extended outro snippeting Elvis Presley as Bono had done on the Zoo TV Tour.
Now, what about the encore? After a brief break, the opening notes of Elevation rang out, the first song of the night not from Achtung Baby or Rattle & Hum. Elevation+Vertigo is an established encore pairing from U2's last three tours, and tonight they broke them up with a live debut: brand new single Atomic City came between them. U2 performed Atomic City with elaborate visuals of the Las Vegas skyline—indeed, the visuals for many songs were elaborate and took full advantage of the Sphere's technology.
Perhaps the one transition of the night that didn't work was going from Vertigo to Where the Streets Have No Name; a riff-based rocker to a sprawling atmospheric intro. Bono did, though, fit in a snippet of Moment of Surrender here, the only acknowledgement of the album No Line on the Horizon. Streets was followed by album partner With or Without You, and then the final song of the night: Beautiful Day, which is currently on the longest active streak of consecutive full-tour performances since debut. Beautiful Day concluded with two Beatles snippets; these, and earlier snippets, acknowledged Paul McCartney in the audience for opening night. If we discount the aborted show on 1 September 2018 when Bono lost his voice, this is the first full-tour gig where Beautiful Day has been the final song.
So, with all that said, the full setlist was:
- I Could Have Lost You (snippet) / Zoo Station
- The Fly
- Even Better Than The Real Thing
- Mysterious Ways
- One / Purple Rain (snippet) / Love Me Tender (snippet)
- Until the End of the World
- Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses
- Tryin' to Throw Your Arms Around the World
- All I Want Is You Songs of Surrender Mix
- Desire / Love Me Do (snippet)
- Angel of Harlem / Into The Mystic (snippet) / Dancing in the Moonlight (snippet)
- Love Rescue Me
- So Cruel
- Ultraviolet (Light My Way)
- Love Is Blindness / Viva Las Vegas (snippet)
- Elevation / My Way (snippet)
- Atomic City
- Moment of Surrender (snippet) / Where the Streets Have No Name / All You Need Is Love (snippet)
- With or Without You
- Beautiful Day / Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (snippet) / Blackbird (snippet)
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