how long to sing this song: the end of the U2 Sphere residency

it's a musical journey.

how long to sing this song: the end of the U2 Sphere residency
October 2023.

There’s a moment at the end of U2 tours, or at the end of a particular segment of shows, where the band play a song from the War album called “40.” It’s basically a recitation of the 40th Psalm and the 40th Psalm is basically about patience. It’s a frighteningly appropriate sentiment for diehards who follow a rock and roll band. U2 know all of this so when they play “40” it is a thank you, it is a statement of gratitude, it is a moment that materializes, that is not explained, that just happens. You don’t even need to know all of this to know you are witnessing something special.

I had tuned into the unofficial live feed1 from Saturday night’s last show at the Sphere and had been able to stay awake until the band started “Where the Streets Have No Name.” I gave up, turned out the light, curled up on the pillow, knowing that the feed would end when the show was over and I could doze off to the end of the set. Except when it was done and the fans were applauding, you could hear the refrain from what sounded like the other side of the venue, the fans singing the chorus of “40”: How long, to sing this song

Of course. We are done here in Sin City, the band are finished performing in the circus tent in front of the whales and high rollers and “conventioneers” who got comp tickets because their trade show was held at the Venetian, they no longer have to mark time in James Dolan’s dumb round building on the edge of the desert. (Yes, I know they made money, but the men in U2 are already rich enough for eternities. They did not do this for the payday, although everyone in the concentric circles outside of U2 Inc. was very happy for this money spigot to continue to flow with no end in sight. )

U2’s show at the Sphere felt more set in stone than previous tours, despite previous tours also having enormous multimedia components that make spontaneity less of a vital element. But something about the Sphere, maybe it was just the time zone difference, made me not look to listen to the show every night, even though I happily would browse around looking for a Mixlr feed all throughout the last few tours, especially when the band was in Europe so the shows were in my afternoon while I was working, I could have it on in the background, I could pick up my late cat Jackie and dance around during “When the Streets Have No Name.”

I was supposed to have gone back to Las Vegas for the show on February 18th. I had tickets, I wanted to see it again and find out what I’d see a second time. After my NPR piece came out many friends of mine were suddenly texting me about how they weren’t huge U2 fans but were very curious about this show. But it was a bank holiday weekend and the money required to go was stupid and I had already done it once as cheaply as I could manage it which was still over $1000 by the time you add up airfare and hotel and concert ticket. I didn’t even do anything in Las Vegas, I didn’t eat anywhere special, I had Nathan’s after the show because it was open. I should not have to justify to myself or anyone else why I didn’t go back. I put my tickets back into the face value market and they disappeared within seconds. I hoped that the person who grabbed them needed them more than I did.

I did not put in a request for tickets for the last batch of shows because it required a quick decision and that seemed beyond me in that moment and then it was no longer an option. I almost caved when a friend came in from abroad and we poked around the VIP packages and the secondary market, but the number was just too high. The conventional wisdom was that the prices would drop the closer you got to a show date but you can play that kind of chicken if you live, or are going to be, within driving distance. And you are still playing chicken with large numbers. I did not do it. My friend went home after her trip to the national parks in Utah. My U2 friends said things like “I’ll figure it out later” or had found their own personal justifications, but that was still playing with a not insignificant pot of money to make it happen.

This is why I think it is hilarious whenever my Vulture U2 list makes the rounds and someone inevitably describes me as “an enormous U2 fan.” No, I wrote that list because I got asked to write it, because the editor who assigned it said, “I’d like to read you on this.” I could be the biggest U2 fan in the world but if I did not know 1) my shit 2) how to write I would not have gotten that work. I like the band a lot but I am not an enormous fan by any conventional definition. I know enormous fans, though, and those are the people who understandably decided they needed multiple trips to the Sphere. Nothing is guaranteed and I do not blame them. It was a great show and if I lived within driving distance or a short hopper flight of Las Vegas I would not be writing an essay about why I didn’t go again or writing about how frustrated and sad it made me watching my Instagram feed fill up on show weekends as people of my acquaintance made their way to or back to Vegas. I hated that it was a question of money. I hated how much money we were talking about. I kept looking at the numbers and thinking, “That is a trip to Japan” or how my backyard is still a mess from two years ago when I had to dig it up to get a new sewer line put in.

I will gladly spend stupid money on concert tickets and/or travel. I have spent stupid money on concert tickets and/or travel. This was beyond stupid and on top of everything else, I’m paying ridiculous sums of money to stand next to a group of Chads in town for the National Widget Parts Manufacturing Expo, who could be at any show in Vegas but this was free so off they went. They bought a U2 record when they were in college! It is just a thing to do, it’s not like it’s important or it actually matters so of course we can have a loud conversation ordering more drinks from the waitress walking through the crowd or during a song they don’t recognize.

I wonder what these people thought during “40.” They were probably leaving, or at least eyeing the exits. It didn’t matter what they thought, though, because it was over and we were done with this era of U2 and playing “40” for us was their way of acknowledging that they are done and thank you for putting up with this and thank you for showing up anyway. “40” is sacred, it means something, it will always mean something. They play “40” in defiance, without asking permission, without getting approval. A punk rock band from Dublin, Ireland is putting a psalm to music.

It is #16 on the list. I can sit here trying to find new things to write about “40” or I can remember that I already did that work.

The Sphere era is over, thank god, they are not going back in the fall (fuck you James Dolan, that was actually a plan for five minutes apparently), I don’t have to think about this any more. “They need to play in front of their own fans again,” texted a friend last month. Here they are, doing exactly that. “We’re going home,” Bono said in the middle somewhere, to his wife and kids but also spiritually they are coming back to their fans. “40” is a ritual, it is a promise, it is a blessing, it is an expression of gratitude. It is for the fans for whom this era was always out of the question, for the woman crying in the footage and for the woman falling to sleep reminding herself she is still part of this even if she is 2000 miles away.

  1. thanks again to every U2 fan who uses Mixlr every night.