I saw Dead & Company at The Sphere and it’s completely changed live music for me

Everywhere I look, Vegas is full of Deadheads.

The deathless hype that surrounds Americana icons The Grateful Dead knows no bounds. Or age. At any given moment, Las Vegas is full of just about every type of person you can think of, all of whom have descended upon this great city to let loose and have the time of their lives.

But Deadheads stick out like sore thumbs. And there are many sore thumbs in Vegas. From their tie-dye bandanas to the proud lettering on their t-shirts paying homage to their idols. These guys are easy to spot, and they’re rushing into The Sphere as if it was Boxing Day at Macy’s.

Of course, that’s because Dead & Company are currently churning through a residency inside Las Vegas’ futuristic event space. Only the third band to ever do so, following U2 and Phish.

For the unfamiliar, Dead & Company is a sequel to The Grateful Dead, following the passing of Jerry Garcia in the mid-90s as well as several other members of the legendary band. With John Mayer slotting in, the outfit has evolved but still maintains that exceptional musicianship that’s been flooring audiences for decades.

I can confidently say this because I’m not much of a Grateful Dead fan. I know them. I’ve listened to them. I’ve enjoyed them. But ask me why they have such a strong following and I would have been able to tell you.

That is, before I saw them live. And before I saw them live at The Sphere.

The Sphere. That marvellously ambitious, five-year project from Sphere Entertainment Co. designed to completely upend live entertainment as we know it and push it more than just a few blocks towards the future.

And I know this will come across as fawnish; perhaps a bit insincere. But once I walked out of that venue, I knew that I couldn’t possibly look at live entertainment the same. Immediately, my mind started churning through the possibilities such a game-changing venue has brought live music. Flying Lotus? The Chemical Brothers? JAY-Z? Beyonce? Hell, a Taylor Swift concert at The Sphere would rake in an unspeakable amount of money.

The Sphere, the exterior of which is coated with a staggering 1.2 million customisable LEDs, looks like something only a mad Hollywood director would dream up. But it’s very real, and the 16K display inside – the only one of its kind – is one of the most stunning, dynamic and exciting things I’ve seen. Probably ever.

Larry Heath already wrote The Sphere as he recalled seeing the short “Postcard From Earth” by Darren Aronofsky. To my understanding, the 50-minute short film was designed specifically to showcase what The Sphere’s 160,000-square-foot, 256 million pixel display is capable of. Much like Wii sports or one of those dinosaur documentaries at IMAX. It’s a test-run. And while I’m sure it’s spectacular. Nothing compares to seeing a full concert in this space. Honestly, nothing.

Dead Forever

“Dead Forever” is a high-concept performance from Dead & Company and the band has clearly drawn on decades of history to craft these monumental visuals, all of which score a sharp, well-rehearsed set list that tracks “Shakedown Streets” straight through to “Don’t Ease Me In” before going to a short intermission.

Being unfamiliar with many of their classic songs left me at a bit of a disadvantage compared to those around me, all of whom were beaming with absolute joy and nodding in approval as Mayer stepped in for some magnificent solos and played off band leader Bob Weir like they’ve been doing this together forever.

If Mayer is the clear outlier from the band, you can’t tell. The man has already proven to be one of the greatest guitarists of our time, and so he seems like a natural fit for these heady, grizzled instrumentals which are so delicately layered and yet have the energy of improv.

And I guess that’s what distinguishes The Grateful Dead and earns them their loyal fanbase. These musicians are without equal and when elevated by The Sphere’s glorious visuals, it’s almost too blissful.

You’ve no doubt already seen the many visuals from this show plastered all over social media so I won’t describe what you’ve already seen. From rainforests to Red Rocks (a venue that’s become important to The Grateful Dead), these were awe-inspiring, cinematic set pieces that beamed in 16K and threatened to overwhelm those of us who weren’t exactly sober.

Perhaps Mayer’s biggest test comes as he steps onto lead vocals for “Row Jimmy,” burning through Garcia’s beautiful lyrics while The Sphere’s screen dives underwater, bringing the vibrant colours of the sea to wrap the audience in an incredibly immersive experience.

The Grateful Dead fans are used to seeing their heroes effortlessly glide through songs like “Uncle John’s Band” and “Hell in a Bucket.” Add The Sphere to the equation and I, as someone who walked in not really being all too familiar with The Grateful Dead, feel like this was the perfect marriage to really kick Vegas’ ambitious one-of-one venue into overdrive.

There are likely a million small details and references in these visuals that nod playfully to Deadheads like an in-joke shared between close friends. Those nuances were lost on me, however, mainly because I didn’t know whether to focus on the visuals or the music. Both are so large and impressive that it’s easy to get lost in one while only paying half attention to the other.

Maybe that could be the criticism here. The experience is almost too good. Dead & Company have put on a mind-bending musical odyssey, the likes of which I’m unlikely to see again. It’s because of this that it’s hard to get over the excitement and just really absorb the experience (assuming you’re only seeing the show once).

My advice: take it as it comes, stay sober, and for the love of all things dead, be grateful that you’re witnessing live music history.

Dead & Company’s residency at The Sphere will wrap up in August 2024. The Eagles have been confirmed as the next band to have a residency at this futuristic venue.

FIVE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

The Grateful Dead will play several more shows at The Sphere before wrapping up on August 10th. You can buy tickets here.

Chris Singh saw Dead & Company at The Sphere as a guest of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

Chris Singh

Chris Singh is an Editor-At-Large at the AU review, loves writing about travel and hospitality, and is partial to a perfectly textured octopus. You can reach him on Instagram: @chrisdsingh.