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On a windy evening in Las Vegas, U2 were finally reunited in the same arena for the first time in five years — sort of. Drummer Larry Mullen Jr. attended Friday night’s penultimate U2 show at the Sphere in Las Vegas, where he watched from a box seat in the audience.

Mullen, who has been recovering from neck surgery and other ailments, has been sitting out U2’s landmark Sphere performances. On Thursday, Bono, guitarist The Edge and bassist Adam Clayton were once again joined by Krezip drummer Bram van den Berg — who has been filling in for Mullen during the Sphere shows.

“Not since October 1978 have we played shows without Larry Mullen Jr., and it’s only right I start by introducing the man who saved the day when Larry Mullen could not make it,” Bono said in introducing his bandmates. “His name is already legend around here to people who can pronounce it. The flying while sitting-in Dutchman, Bram van den Berg on drums.”

Saturday is the final night for U2 at the Sphere, where it originally planned to play 25 shows but extended to 40. (Phish is next up, with four nights at the Sphere in April.)

Press reports had previously hinted that Mullen was making his way to Las Vegas, which sparked rumors that he might hit the stage at the Sphere for the final two shows. This would have marked the first time Mullen performed in concert with his band mates since 2019. (The drummer has continued to record with U2, however, and played on last year’s single “Atomic City”).

They were right that Mullen would be there, but didn’t perform. At Friday’s U2 show, Bono introduced Mullen in the stands: “The rumors that Larry will be playing with us tonight are not true sadly. But he is here with us!”

As the crowd started chanting “Larry,” Bono continued: “That is the man who pinned the note on the notice board at Mount Temple Comprehensive School all those years ago. And we are very grateful that he did and that he’s here with us tonight. We wish him a speedy, speedy, speedy recovery. We love you, Larry Mullen Jr. “

Bono then launched into the final song — which technically is part of the “encore,” but the band passed on the theatrics of leaving the stage and coming back.

“We play this game every fucking night, and pretend that we’re doing an encore,” Bono said. “It’s not an encore. It’s on the setlist. There is a thing called the Internet. It’s a beautiful night Larry, and this is ‘Beautiful Day.’” (Later, Bono would tweak the lyrics to add, “Larry Mullen, you’re beautiful!”)

Later, on social media, Mullen returned the thanks. “What an incredible night at the Sphere,” he said on U2’s account. “So grateful to Bono, Edge and Adam and of course Bram for an amazing job. Very emotional night for me personally.”

It was a fitting, special way to wrap up what has been a fitting, special experience for U2 and its fans. Coming off 2023’s “Songs of Surrender,” Bono and the Edge’s stripped-down reworking of U2 classics, the band has been in a bit of an introspective, celebratory mood for some time now. That also included last year’s Emmy-nominated Disney+ special “Bono & The Edge: A Sort of Homecoming, with Dave Letterman.” Now, “U2:UV Achtung Baby Live at Sphere” has been similarly unique in finding a new way to celebrate the band, its catalog and its longevity.

On Thursday night, Bono, the Edge, Clayton and van den Berg were spotted at the U2 Experience’s “Zoo Station” activation at the Venetian hotel, where they met with fans and explored the pop-up. (They also took photos inside the exhibit, including the one above.)

Much has been written about the jaw-dropping visuals inside the Sphere, and much of the imagery — including a deconstruction of the Las Vegas skyline — lives up to the hype. And even though the U2 shows are over, that impressive staging will live on via a concert film that was being shot on Friday (as well as other recent nights) and is expected to eventually play inside the Sphere.

“We are filming tonight,” Bono told the crowd. “This is the show that people will see after we all go home. In the future people will watch us, watching you… Give the future a wave.”

The enthusiastic crowd — which included several U2 family members (like Bono’s wife Alison Hewson), rocker Lenny Kravitz and other notables — obliged.

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