Las Vegas’ newest and glitziest bauble the Sphere can’t hold an LED light to off-Strip fun

When U2 announced that they were going to play a six-months-long residency in Las Vegas I immediately added a trip to my to-do list. The Irish rock band always puts on a great show, and I was excited to see the group blow the LED lights out of the Strip’s newest and glitziest bauble, the Sphere. Little did I know that the concert would prove to be among the least memorable parts of the trip—and that the real fun was to be found beyond the Strip.



Everything you’ve heard about the Sphere is true—and yet, for all the ballyhoo around the high-tech ball-shaped arena, the concert itself proved to be underwhelming.

Maybe it was the Wednesday night crowd, which just didn’t seem to be into the show, at least not the way other audiences had been when I’d seen U2 in the past. Or maybe it was the lack of an unforgettable fire in U2 themselves, who at this point—early February, after starting their residency at the end of September—were pounding away through the entirety of their 1991 album Achtung Baby for the umpteenth time in the city of blinding lights.

Yes, the Sphere takes the arena-concert-going experience to the next level with immaculate sound and sometimes stunning (and at other times simply close-ups of the grizzled road warriors onstage) visuals, and a cool blue, almost Blade-Runner-esque feel to the concourse. But without a stage performance to match it’s a somewhat empty, not to mention pricey—our seats cost around $600 CDN each—experience.


Meow Wolf: Omega Mart

Is it possible to satirize consumerism in Las Vegas, city of excess and glitz? Absolutely, as Meow Wolf’s Omega Mart demonstrates. A supermarket with uncannily realistic-looking products, Omega Mart is actually a front for something stranger and far more immersive.

Located inside a giant concrete bunker/sci-fi shopping mall called Area15, about three kilometres north of the Strip, Meow Wolf: Omega Mart is a two-storey immersive art installation/amusement park that is part alien supermarket and part sci-fi conspiracy thriller.

Visitors begin their experience in the Omega Mart itself, a brightly lit replica of a Choices-type grocery emporium where shelves are lined with products that look eerily like the real thing until you take a closer look (one of my favourites: Plausible Deniability laundry detergent).

Slip through a passage half-hidden in the back of the refrigerated foods section and you find yourself in a black-lit, neon-trimmed wonderland of sight-and-sound installations and art. Wander from station to station, trying different gadgets, or do a deeper dive to uncover clues to a storyline that involves human disappearances, a cult-like family-run corporation, and alien organisms that explain (sort of) the origin of Omega Mart. A trip in every sense of the word, and well worth taking.


Punk Rock Museum

Kerang! That’s the sound of your travelling companion trying to play Pat Smear of Nirvana’s guitar in the gear room at the one-year-old Punk Rock Museum, about a 10-minute Uber ride from the Strip.

Besides demonstrating your musicianship, you can get married, tattooed, and tipsy—the museum has its own ink parlour and dive bar, The Triple Down (house special: The Fletcher, a rum-and-Coke served in a tall Pringles can with chips served on the side) and offers a “Partners in Crime” wedding package.

There’s lots to see though for people who just want to ogle memorabilia collected from 50 years of punk rock, including photos, zines, posters, flyers, torn clothing, hand-written lyrics and more.

Canadian content includes photos and more from pioneering Vancouver bands D.O.A. and the Subhumans. The museum also offers tours by real-life (punk) rock stars like the Steve Diggle of the Buzzcocks and KJ Jansen of Calgary band Chixdiggit. Strangely, the speakers pumping out punk rock tunes were set at retirement home volume levels.


Las Vegas Arts District

Get away from the overpriced Strip ($8USD for an Americano!) and head over to the Arts District in downtown Vegas. A fairly recent City Hall initiative, the 18-block area is filled with boutiques, restaurants, galleries, and bars. There’s also a monthly First Friday art walk. We passed a rainy afternoon checking out galleries, a giant flea market/antiques mall, and the craft breweries HUDL and Able Baker. The former is known for its smooth and tasty Vanilla Oak Cream Ale, while the latter is named after the first two atomic bombs detonated at the Nevada Test Site and is home to Atomic Duck IPA.

If you do drop by the District, be sure to check out The Silver Stamp, a wonderful little watering-hole lovingly styled in ‘70s wood-panelled basement chic. The Stamp is in a nondescript building located in the most Las Vegas of places: across from a wedding chapel with two pink Cadillacs parked out front.

Although ultimately disappointed by the main inspiration for the trip, we ended up having an awesome time. We still didn’t get to all the things we wanted to in our three days, but we saw enough to want to go back again soon—to check out a show at the Brooklyn Bowl, for example, a combo concert hall/bowling alley, and the Mob Museum, and more of the arts district. And I wouldn’t mind another HUDL Vanilla Oak Cream Ale. Ah well, that’s what cheap Vegas flights are for.

All Photos: Shawn Connor