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HomeEntertainmentDead and Company Kick Off 'Dead Forever' Residency at Las Vegas Sphere

Dead and Company Kick Off ‘Dead Forever’ Residency at Las Vegas Sphere

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The long, strange trip just got a lot trippier.

Dead & Company opened their much-anticipated Sphere residency in Las Vegas Thursday night, making good on the potential of the world’s most high-tech concert venue and delivering what has to be the most dazzling visual show in Grateful Dead history.

The group took the stage just past 7:30 p.m., opening with modest visuals — by Sphere standards, at least — for “Feel Like a Stranger,” as large live shots of Bob Weir and John Mayer were projected above the stage. It wasn’t the kind of over-the-top spectacle provided by, say, U2’s inaugural concert at the venue late last year, and the crowd’s reaction was relatively muted at first.

Any doubts were short, though. The crowd hit a collective note of rapture and awe soon after, when the band launched into “Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo,” from 1973’s Wake of the Flood. The Sphere displayed a retractable metal gate opening as the song started — first revealing the famed Grateful Dead house in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, then taking us to the stratosphere, as we appeared to soar higher and higher above the city until reaching the cosmos. The launch into orbit gave the sensation that the entire venue was tilting from left to right.

Outer space was a common theme throughout the show’s two acts, with the crowd going through wormholes and blots of color earlier in the night before touching down on new planets later on. After the wormhole, Dead & Co. wound up in front of a tropical rainforest beside a waterfall as they played “Bird Song,” the Garcia-Hunter classic originally written in tribute to Janis Joplin. After the rainforest, the band found itself in an old Western flick in the desert for “Me and My Uncle,” with the “film” jokingly presented in “Sphere-O-Vision.”

Alive Coverage*

Dead & Company are the third group to play the $2.3 billion Sphere since its opening late last year, following U2’s months-long residency and Phish’s much shorter four-show run a month ago. While they finished what was billed as their final tour last summer, evidently the prospect of a residency at this venue was too tantalizing a prospect to pass up. Dead & Co. have more than 20 additional shows booked at the Sphere through this July.

They’re calling the residency Dead Forever, and fittingly, it’s a show full of nods to the band’s rich history, with lots of throwback photos of Jerry Garcia and more. The band closed out their first set of the night by turning the venue into a box with walls that were completely covered in vintage Grateful Dead ticket stubs, backstage passes, and other photos.

Rich Fury/Sphere Entertainment

Musically, the band sounds tight as ever. The harmonies were beautiful and the groove stayed consistent. Mayer gave strong vocals and wailed on guitar solos throughout the night — with a particularly strong performance on “He’s Gone” — and Weir’s voice sounded crisp and clear. Mickey Hart took his customary “Drums” solo, playing alone onstage as a snare drum floated serenely behind him. Keyboardist Jeff Chimenti was particularly impressive on opening night, stealing the show when the band let him have the spotlight and blowing the crowd away with a solo during “Brown-Eyed Women.”

The band took its break between sets at around 8:50 p.m., with fans looking at a large pink screen showcasing classic Grateful Dead lyrics as they awaited the group’s return. The band only further leaned into nostalgia and their classic aesthetic in Set Two, starting just before 9:30. After Dead & Company performed “Uncle John’s Band” in front of a live coloring-book visual complete with an animated Garcia in front of a cabin, there was a recreation of the Dead’s short-lived Wall of Sound, with the tower of speakers stretching ever higher before turning into a rainbow bridge in space. In “Hell in a Bucket,” we saw the classic Uncle Sam skeleton riding a motorcycle in a colorful fantasy land, followed by bears and eyeballs with wings, and at one point passing a few sets of large disembodied feet placed right beside the road.

Dead & Co. went with their cover of Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” as the penultimate song of the night, as the screen showed the venue rocketing at light speed across the universe through solar systems before stopping by Earth, then slowly making our way back to the Haight-Ashbury house. Aside from the song itself sounding gorgeous, it was particularly poignant hearing the track while actually gazing into the heavens.

After finishing “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” there was an old audio clip of a news reporter describing the droves of Deadheads coming to the Dead’s shows and — in keeping with the Dead Forever theme — noting how the fans would “prefer the music never stop.” On that note, Dead & Company closed the night with another of their best-known covers, “Not Fade Away.”

Alive Coverage*

Dead & Company Sphere Opening Setlist, May 16, 2024

Set One

“Feel Like a Stranger”
“Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo”
“Jack Straw”
“Bird Song”
“Me and My Uncle”
“Brown-Eyed Women”
“Cold Rain And Snow”

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Set Two

“Uncle John’s Band”
“Help on the Way”
“Slipknot!”
“Franklin’s Tower”
“He’s Gone”
“Drums”
“Space”
“Standing on the Moon”
“St. Stephen”
“Hell in a Bucket”
“Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”
“Not Fade Away”

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