The current president appeared in a video graphic and a former one — Bill Clinton — was in the press box. But the night belonged to U2, the rock ‘n’ roll royalty that convenes a party at Sam Boyd Stadium about once every president or two.
And frontman Bono, who’s had the ear of those presidents for his social activism, needed only to spin around in circles a couple of times, arms overhead, to rechristen the stadium for a sold-out crowd of more than 40,000 for the “360” tour.
But, as he sang in the second song, “Get On Your Boots,” it was too nice a night “to talk about wars between nations.”
“Every religion has its Mecca,” Bono told the crowd. “We (entertainers) end up here, sometimes on our knees, but we come to Vegas.”
He introduced his bandmates with comparisons to every entertainer from Bette Midler to David Copperfield before declaring, “My name is Wayne Newton.”
Before long, he was leading a “Viva Las Vegas” sing-a-long.
The Irish rockers and Sam Boyd Stadium don’t get together too often, but when they do it’s an affair to remember, fleeting but passionate.
It started in November 1992 with the “Zoo TV” tour, the first 80-foot stage with 1,200 tons of giant TV screens the stadium had ever known. It continued when the “PopMart” tour launched in April 1997. Parking-lot bootleggers rolled tape (yeah, it was tape back then) on the nightly rehearsals.
But even after a lot of practice, that date was best known for the boys getting stuck, “Spinal Type”-style, inside a giant lemon.
Now the tour is sponsored by BlackBerry and everyone used their smart phones to talk to friends on the other side.
The massive “360” stage made it look like the stadium came out on the losing end of a flying saucer invasion, almost a living-room show compared to a recent stop at the new Dallas Cowboys Stadium where photos reveal the earthlings won.
Not many bands can host this kind of party. Festivals such as Vegoose — already come and gone since the last U2 stop — mostly replaced single headliners for gatherings of this magnitude. Other stars on the short list, namely the Rolling Stones, opt to play big-money indoor dates on the Strip instead.
The weather smiled on the band’s choice to take the path less Vegas on one of those fine desert nights that wasn’t too hot, too cold or too windy. The crowd had clearly aged along with the band. Tailgating was light and refined; one party of about two dozen even hired a hosted bar with table cloths and a bartender in bow tie.
As he cooked chicken fajitas for a group in the parking lot, Las Vegan Rick Wylie said he was here for the Zoo TV tour in 92 as well, but there was no cooking then.
“Just heavy drinkin’” he said with a laugh. “That’s when we could handle a hangover.”
More current pop stars, Black Eyed Peas, were added as the opening act, possibly to youthen the demographic of a stadium light on the “Now Generation” they sang about.
The crowd was more on the cordial side until frontman will.i.am. won them over with sincerity, a shout-out to U2 and other bands who manage to “stay together for the love of the music,” and a little humiliation of those who would be “chillin’ lackadaisical” up in the stands while Fergie did her “Boom Boom Pow.”
Friday also offered a pleasant morning to those who started arriving at 6 a.m. to line up for a preferred spot on the general-admission floor.
Fans debated whether it was better to be inside the race-track ramp that circled the stage or on the outside of the rail.
“We’re just addicted to it, to be honest with you,” said Pat Dalug, the Princeton, N.J., man who had a place near the front of the line. “Some people don’t understand, but we understand. I always tell my wife — it’s better than smoking crack.”
Dalug even was on the clock, sort of, passing out sunblock samples. As he eyed other fans sipping coffee or napping on air mattresses, he noted, “You forget about all the problems, all the responsibilities.”
“Chicago was a little crazy,” Dalug added. But neither U2 nor its fans are spring chickens anymore. “If you get arrested, it’s on our record. We’re not underage anymore.”
Boris “Bowman” Poehland from Hamburg, Germany, was trying to follow as many shows as he could in the United States.
“This show is all about different perspectives,” he says. “I’ve been almost everywhere with this show.”
But, he confessed, “U2 is the name of my traveling agency. I love this band, but it’s only 40 percent the show. Sixty percent is traveling around the world meeting old friends, meeting new friends, being in G.A. line for two days. That is the fun.”