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December 22, 2014

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Glitches, technology and tears pepper U2’s Las Vegas legacy

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U2’s understated PopMart Tour stage at Sam Boyd Stadium in April 1997.

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Edge and Bono, rockin' it out in a muscular way at Sam Boyd Stadium in April 1997.

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Bono, interacting theatrically during U2's November 2001 show at the Thomas & Mack Center.

Not many bands possess the artistic confidence to dial up a “do over” in the midst of a performance in front of 40,000 fans, but U2 owns such chutzpah.

A quadrumvirate that has long ignored boundaries both physical and artistic, U2 began its haughty PopMart Tour at Sam Boyd Stadium in April 1997. Among the stage effects built on the stadium surface were a 56-by-170-foot LED screen, a 100-foot tall golden arch that reminded some concert-goers of McDonald’s if McDonald’s were to open a franchise on planet Makus III and a 40-foot-high mirrored lemon.

Yes: A lemon of 40 feet, covered in mirrors. And we thought the Disco Armadillo at Texas Station’s South Padre nightclub was a gaudy showpiece.

With all these moving parts, and the fact that this was the first show of the tour, a mishap seemed destined. It occurred as the band took to the auxiliary stage for a first take on the then-new single “Staring at the Sun.” The start of the song was such a mishmash that the band stopped playing, pausing to regroup as Bono announced, “We’re just having a family row.” Similar to Emeril as he hurls paprika on a needy slice of meat, the band kicked it up a notch and the crowd went nuts.

That might be the most memorable U2 moment ever in Vegas if not for the November 2001 show during its Elevation Tour. The opening act was No Doubt, stripped of the elaborate staging common in its own headlining shows and allowed to just rock it out for nearly 30 minutes. With the crowd of 18,000 roaring to “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” U2 took the stage as the house lights stayed up. During the performance (and in one of the great moments for a member of Vegas media), Bono ducked his head into the photographers’ pit and made out for a bit with freelance photog Denise Truscello. But the moment to remember for everyone who was not Denise Truscello was when the glowing LED screen behind the stage rolled with the name of every person killed in the attacks of Sept. 11 as Bono sang out “One.” A band capable of evoking any emotions onstage reduced 18,000 fans to tears.

When U2 returns to Vegas tonight for another whopper of a production at Sam Boyd for its 360 Tour, they’ll show off a cylindrical video display of connected LED panels held high by a 150-foot steel frame. One of the biggest concert productions ever, again, of course, even without the oversized citrus effect. Whatever happens, count on them for something different. It’s a U2/Vegas tradition.

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at twitter.com/JohnnyKats.

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