U2‘s Sphere shows have been played without drummer Larry Mullen Jr. Bono, The Edge, and Adam Clayton are all present, but they are joined by Krezip drummer Bram van den Berg.

And he's done a phenomenal job filling in for Mullen. Van den Berg holds his own amongst the legends and adds his flare to the show. Hats off to Mullen for A.) allowing U2 to play shows without him and B.) handing the sticks over to a new drummer.

This was due to health issues the U2 drummer has had. He was involved in Songs of Surrender, the band's last album, but that was primarily a Bono, The Edge, and Adam Clayton venture. Mullen has been recovering from injuries for years and hasn't been seen on stage since the 2019 leg of U2's Joshua Tree anniversary tour.

It's important to note that Mullen did join the band to film their Atomic City music video. Mullen played the U2 song several times so they could film their music video. He also played on the track in the studio, which makes the rumors somewhat more plausible.

Regardless, 38 shows at the Sphere have been played sans Mullen. However, an interesting rumor began swirling before the final two shows.

Larry Mullen Jr. is coming back? 

U2 members Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton, and Larry Mullen Jr. with Sphere background.

The Daily Mail ran an exclusive stating that Mullen will make a surprise return to the band during their final two shows. Their report claims that Mullen will “stage a dramatic and surprise return.”

A source added, “Nobody knows, but he will arrive on stage on Friday evening just in time to close the Vegas shows. It's a total surprise.”

It would be a big surprise. After all, Mullen hasn't played a single one of U2's 38 previous shows at the Sphere. He's also stayed out of headlines and has only come up when his bandmates provided an update.

As I've been told in the past, rumors are sometimes just rumors. Maybe Mullen comes back. Maybe he doesn't. There are pros and cons to both sides and then the hard truth.

Larry Mullen Jr.'s surprise return rains on Bram van den Berg's parade

The first side to look at is what Mullen's return would mean for Bram van den Berg. Of course, U2's drummer will also be Mullen, something I doubt van den Berg himself would even refute. At the same time, van den Berg has done an admirable job doing the unthinkable: Filling in for Mullen.

Sure, they didn't ask him to play Sunday Bloody Sunday or Bullet the Blue Sky during these shows, but it still took guts and skill to fill in for an icon. Bono has mentioned that van den Berg is a fan of the band. I can't imagine what it's like to play with people you look up to — let alone U2.

He also found a way to make some of U2's signature songs his own. Van den Berg interweaves his unique drum fills to songs like Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses and Ultraviolet (Light My Way).

And on one hand, being so close to the finish line, it feels like a backhanded slap to throw Mullen back in. Yes, he's the OG drummer, but van den Berg has played 95 percent of these shows. It's like reinserting your starting quarterback into the lineup for the final kneel-downs in a preseason game.

We also don't know how much Mullen would play

Another factor to consider is that the Daily Mail didn't make it clear how many songs Mullen would play should he return. He could play the entire two-hour set, but wouldn't that require a lot more rehearsal? Songs like So Cruel and Tryin' to Throw Your Arms Around the World haven't been played by Mullen in decades.

Add to the fact that playing a two-hour set requires a lot of stamina. Yes, Larry Mullen Jr. played with U2 to film their Atomic City music video. However, that didn't compare to doing a full concert.

It's always possible that van den Berg hands over the sticks as U2 closes out their final Sphere shows with 40, their ultimate concert-ender.

Big U2 return closes out Sphere residency on a high note

If Mullen does return, it will be a huge emotional highlight for U2. I know that some fans were hesitant to call the Sphere shows true U2 gigs since Mullen wasn't present. After all, aside from the infamous ZooTV tour shows in 1993, the band has always stuck together.

Bringing Mullen back into the fold would be euphoric, especially for those unaware of the rumors. Yes, Bram van den Berg has been a great stand-in, but he's not Even Better Than the Real Thing. Tie that in with the prospect of him only coming out for 40, and you have a perfect win-win scenario.

So will Larry Mullen Jr. return? 

At the end of the day, I don't see Larry Mullen Jr. returning unless it's a one-off performance. It's a great fairytale, sure, but it feels as realistic as one. I hope that I'm wrong, as seeing him return for a full set would be legendary.

But realistically, unless Mullen has been healed since the time U2's Sphere residency commenced, it feels unrealistic. Some of the songs in the set, like One and Mysterious Ways, are like old hat to Mullen. But relearning the Achtung Baby album tracks along with building his stamina are two different things.

U2:UV Achtung Baby Live at Sphere

U2's first-ever concert residency, titled U2:Uv Achtung Baby Live at Sphere, celebrates their 1991 album, Achtung Baby. During these shows, Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton, and Bram van den Berg play the album in full for the first time.

The residency was initially announced as a handful of dates in the fall of 2023. Demand and interest grew, and U2 had to add dates to their itinerary. A total of 40 shows will have been played when it's all said and done. The final two shows will take place on March 1 and 2.

U2 will conclude their Sphere residency on March 2.