Dead and Company at The Sphere: Hot, Hot, Hot!

View of the Sphere from the hotel and a scene from the Dead & Company show (photo at right by Todd Hinden)

I'm back home from scorching Las Vegas where I took in two Dead & Company shows at the state-of-the-art Sphere. It was worth every cent of the $395 front-row center seats.

That's a lot to pay for a concert or two when my first Grateful Dead show in 1970 cost less than 10 bucks. It's been a long, strange trip to these inflationary prices. Fortunately, I could afford to treat myself. I'm so happy I did.

Dead & Company are in the midst of a residency at the Sphere that began in May and ends in August. They play three shows every weekend. It's the perfect place for the aging band that now consists of only two founders, singer/guitarist Bobby Weir and percussionist Mickey Hart. Guitarist John Mayer anchors the younger wave of players that also includes bassist Oteil Burbridge, keyboard player Jeff Chimenti and drummer Jay Lane. It's the perfect mix to carry the Grateful Dead's music to the current generation of Deadheads. The crowd was a mix of Baby Boomers and Millennials. They all came to Vegas to catch their favorite band and D&C didn't disappoint.


The Venue

I'm not going to break down the technical wizardly that makes the Sphere work. It's round shape and steep levels squeezes in about 18,000 people each night. Entry is via the Venetian Hotel, so there's no waiting outside in the brutal heat. The wide GA floor surrounds the front of the stage. The sections rise from 100 to 400. Since I had great seats (106, Row 12), I can't vouge for other locations, but I didn't hear anyone complaining. Prices range from $195 to $395.

The sound and visuals are fabulous. It's an immersive experience with walls of psychedelic imagery connected to each song. A drone view of San Francisco closes in on Haight Ashbury where the band made its initial home. The stage appears to be rising, but it's an optical illusion. Just before the final second-set song, the visuals return to San Francisco for another sensational view. Other visual highlights include the building of the Wall of Sound, all sorts of GD iconography like dancing bears and flying eyeballs (look for an animated white-haired and bearded Jerry Garcia - the groups's mystical co-founder), a look-back at all the band members and backstage passes and tickets from over the years. Hallucinatory portals and totems rise to the roof and you ride right with them. It's a blast that's probably aided by LSD, but really it's not necessary to dose. The trip comes with the price of the ticket.

Jerry Garcia showed up on the big screen.


The Heat

Las Vegas, like the rest of the Southwest and California, is experiencing an extended heat wave of consistent 100˚ degree plus days with a peak of 118˚ on Sunday. Of course, the key is to hydrate and stay out of the sun. For who live in those parts, they're used to such high temps, but East Coast and Northwest travellers need to adjust to the climate factors. The heat dome is expected to continue through this weekend and beyond.

"Dead & Company are the model for bands that want to extend their lives by combining the old and the new. "


The Shows

I arrived on July 4 with tickets for July 5 and July 6. Both shows were stellar. Friday's dipped into the band's psychedelic history powered by second-set gems "China Cat Sunflower," "Dark Star" and "Not Fade Away" with fans clapping in unison until the very end. But they saved the best for Saturday, a rollicking show from start to finish that had my nearly 70-year-old legs pumping during lengthy jams on "Shakedown Street," "Eyes of the World" and "Morning Dew." It was a classic Saturday night Dead party with the "One More Saturday" first-set closer. 

Set Lists Here

The resdiency appears to be the best thing for the band. No touring headaches; they just show up three times a week. U2 was the first group to play the Sphere. Phish followed with three shows around 4/20. The Eagles are next this fall. You can imagine a Pink Floyd show there in the future. But who else really has the music and visuals that suit the unique building?

Backstage paases and ticket stubs over the years (photo by Todd Hinden)


The Impact

Clearly, live Grateful Dead music is not fading away. All classic bands deal with losses of original members due to health and other reason; it's hard to hold them together. Dead & Company are the model for bands that want to extend their lives by combining the old and the new. Bushy-bearded Weir is the key to connecting to the Dead's past. While Weir looks like he just walked off his porch, Mayer is a stylish figure on stage, rotating several beautiful guitars and even switching his expensive watches each night. The bottom line on Mayer is he can sing and play and has amply filled in for Garcia. Without Mayer, Dead & Co would be seriously diminished.

Once this run is over, presumably they'll sign up for next year's Sphere residency. For them, it's become the only place worth playing.

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Steve Bloom

Steve Bloom

Publisher of, former editor of High Times and Freedom Leaf and co-author of Pot Culture and Reefer Movie Madness.