SBSQ #4: A review of The Sphere, and a Happy New Year
Plus, why I don't like the Misinformation Industrial Complex
Hello from Los Angeles, where I have three more hours than in my usual Eastern Time Zone haunts to enjoy the fact that it’s still not an election year yet. This is the December edition of Silver Bulletin Subscriber Questions.
How this works: this is an opportunity for paid Silver Bulletin subscribers to ask me questions about pretty much anything. In the comments, you should feel welcome to riff on this month’s answers or to ask questions for January. To upgrade to a paid subscription, just click on the attractive red button below.
We got fewer questions than usual this month, though it wasn’t a problem since the ones we did get were high-quality.1 Still, don’t be shy about asking questions, subscribers! It’s also partly my fault for not putting a reminder in one of the other recent posts on here. Posting volume was slow in December for a simple reason: I’ve got a book deadline looming. It will remain slow in January for the same reason. The good news is that I’m actually in some sort of reasonable shape to hit the deadline, which means posting should get quite a bit brisker in February and beyond. There’ll be another post about my forthcoming plans soon.
In the meantime, we have a fun batch of questions for you:
You recently visited The Sphere in Las Vegas. What did you think?
Will turnout be higher or lower in 2024?
What’s your problem with the Misinformation Industrial Complex?
Nate has another weird theory about inflation and why consumers are grumpy about the economy.
You recently went to the NBA’s In-Season Tournament in Las Vegas. What did you think?
You recently visited The Sphere. What did you think?
Subscriber Matt asks, via text message — yes you get special privileges if you’re both a Silver Bulletin subscriber and we’re IRL friends:
What’s your bottom-line review of U2 at Sphere (and Sphere concert in general)? I had vague plans in October to do a [identifying details omitted] trip to LV last weekend, but it feel through and I’m pretty bummed to have missed it.
Short answer: it’s a very impressive piece of architecture, it’s a great experience that will blow you away at points, but it’s a mediocre rock concert, at least on the night I attended (Friday, December 8).
Is it worth a special trip to Vegas? Maybe if you’re really into U2, but otherwise I’m not so sure, just going on the theory that there will be better shows there in the future. But if you’re already in Vegas or need something to push you over the margin — yes, I think The Sphere meets that threshold, although it isn’t cheap, with U2 tickets running in the low-to-mid three figures after taxes and fees.
Longer review: I really like modern architecture — my grandmother was an architect who designed mid-century modern homes — and I’m a bit surprised that The Sphere hasn’t received more attention from architecture critics (yes, I’ve looked for reviews). I guess that stems from the perception that it’s tacky or gaudy. But (i) hey, it’s Las Vegas, so it fits extremely well into its environment; (ii) the seeming simplicity of The Sphere’s design conceals the fact that it’s actually quite beautiful inside and outside. I’m potentially getting a little bit out of my depth here in terms of architectural terminology, but you could also kind of defend The Sphere on Brutalist grounds in the sense of making an unapologetically large impact on its environment:
There is definitely a futurist, space-age vibe once you get inside that’s reminiscent of Parc Olympique in Montreal, which is underrated as a piece of architecture even if it made for a terrible baseball stadium for the Expos. The scale is big and grand. If you have vertigo issues, you’ll probably want to stick with floor level or 100-level seats, though they have obstructed views so you’ll miss some of the experience.
The Sphere is a James Dolan venue, and although I don’t particularly like how Dolan runs the Knicks or the creepy surveillance technology that they use at Madison Square Garden, I do think MSG is an excellent venue (and one I visit a lot). The Sphere shares some of MSG’s strengths with ample concessions and bathrooms, efficient, professional staff, and clean sight-lines. Our tickets were on the right-hand side of the 300 level, but honestly anything in the 200s, 300s or 400s is probably fine. It’s very walkable from Venetian/Palazzo or from Wynn/Encore, don’t make the mistake of hailing a cab/Uber if you’re already on the north side of The Strip.
The first 20-30 minutes I found to be pretty awe-inspiring, frankly. The colors are exceptionally vivid, and there’s a little bit of a quasi-religious vibe that U2 somewhat intentionally played into. I’d been working on a section of my book about focal points at the time of my visit, and The Sphere felt like some kind of a focal point for … neoliberal consumerism? Yes, that’s probably it. The neoliberalism emoji is a sphere/globe, after all. At times, The Sphere felt like a megachurch of neoliberalism:
The fellow seated next to us was on some pretty good shrooms, and I’d guess that a lot of the audience had taken some sort of psychoactive substances (marijuana is legal in Nevada). It’s an experience that seems tailor-made for that kind of thing on the one hand — maybe that’s why the beer lines were short. On the other hand, the venue is dark, and there are lots of steep staircases and elevators, so be careful. But many of the visuals are quite explicitly trippy. At some point we even gave birth to a new large language model, I think:
The show dragged a bit in the middle. U2 tried to go for a more acoustic-y vibe, but instead that was the part that felt most megachurch-y. There are two things at issue here — i) the venue is so cool and gargantuan as to make any band that plays there seem small, as though it’s competing with The Sphere for attention and ii) U2 seemed a little burned out, they’re playing quite a long residency, and Bono’s voice was raspy. I also think rock shows are often longer than they need to be, but that’s a more generic complaint. The specific issue in play here is that musical artists are going to learn how to make peace with the fact that The Sphere is the star of the show, not them.
The last 20-30 minutes get very cool and trippy again, however, and for some people I’d even imagine it even feels kind of spiritual. It’s a really nice experience to share with people.
OK folks, we’re going to turn the paywall on for the rest of this month’s questions. So continue on, paid subscribers. And for free subscribers, thanks for reading Silver Bulletin this year and we’ll see you in 2024.