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Dead & Company at The Sphere in Las Vegas review

June 30th, 2024 · 7 Comments · Grateful Dead, Music, Real-life Adventure Tales


Sphere & Laughing in Las Vegas


photo by Jay Blakesberg for Dead & Company


This is the Acid Tests … in a two-billion-dollar spaceship!

I’d been reading about The Sphere for years before it was ever built.  It sounded too wild to be true!  And of course I immediately thought how perfect it would be for the Dead to play there!  And play they did.  And play we did!

The Strip in Las Vegas is unlike anything else in America.  It’s like the old Times Square — but goes on for miles.  It’s Bourbon Street — but 50 stories high.  It’s the Grand Canyon of architecture and just as awe-inspiring to raft thru — except there’s hundreds of people passing every second and you’re not stuck in the same boat.

All the visitors to Vegas are in a great mood, as is everyone who works there.  It’s a party that’s just getting started, not winding down — and I mean 24-hours-a-day, 365.

Then add to that 20,000 Deadheads a night.  🥳

snapped a split-second before the house lights went out

The Dead action is concentrated in the northern part of the Strip — the (relatively) small area of the Venetian, the Mirage, the Flamingo & the Tuscany — where you couldn’t walk but a few feet without seeing some beaming sparkling fellow tie-dyed ‘Head.

I was not thinking about the music going in.  People were saying the band was on fire but I kind of dismissed it because I was going for The Sphere.  But boy — they have kicked up the tempos and intensity, and John Mayer is really taking Garcia’s foundation to new places.  They’re crackling, in synch, having fun, and pushing each other & the music Furthur.

The most unique Sphere-centric part of the show — and thus my favorite — is Drums, where they make the best use of the venue’s sound capabilities, sending the instruments spinning in a circle around the whole Sphere.  Plus, the visuals are working with each sound created on stage making graphic representations of the pulsating beats.  And then — this is when the haptic seats kick in and shake your pelvis so much women were having orgasms and men were spilling drinks!  😀


photo by Good Trouble— with the planet drum around Mickey
pulsating to the beats & sounds he, Oteil & Jay made

For the post-Drums ballad they simplify, no visual effects, just a giant B&W movie-screen-shaped image of the band, who were stage-lit like a jazz combo in the 1950s when Vegas began.  This was Duke Ellington … on the Millennium Falcon.

I found myself focusing on the four young guys — Mayer, Jeff, Oteil & Jay Lane — and how completely plugged into the music they are — and how their execution and innovative improvising is jazz level. 

And thinking how over the decades, one-by-one, the originals have dropped out, and their position filled by a top cat joining the ongoing experiment — the group absorbing and assimilating each new member.  It’s been organic and gradual.  And now weir down to two originals.  And the four new guys really are the band.

The show is called “Dead Forever” because these musicians (and the millions of others like them) are playing this music and taking it to new places, and will continue to do so “Forever.”  It’s not unlike how The Beatles’ music transformed into a new sphere with the Cirque du Soleil “LOVE” show for 18 years, performing (until July 6, 2024) just a mile from the Dead’s circus in Las Vegas.

photo by Good Trouble

The Sphere is the most technologically advanced entertainment venue ever built.  It projects an image from your feet to above your head, from turning left to turning right.  It’s all-consuming.  Imagine your living room high-def flatscreen filling all your walls and ceiling.  And with a really good band playing in the room.  😁

An IMAX movie is a great experience — but the Sphere is all around you.

photo by Jason Elkins

photo by Carrie Branan

Then add to it that the sound is precision perfect.  There’s 167,000 speakers pointing your way to hear precise sound.  It’s not about volume, it’s about clarity. 

This is a sacred church of music

Red Rocks is the greatest outdoor venue in America, and Radio City the greatest indoor — and the Dead pioneered both! — and now they’ve laid down the early gauntlet for what the futuristic Sphere can be.

photo by Stephanie Bystrak

I hope I live many more years to be able to experience what these visionary visual & musical artists come up with.  This is just the beginning.  As Bob Weir told Variety last week, “As we work with these folks, we’re going to try to get more dynamically involved with each other.  I think we’re only scratching the surface here.

The musicians are streamed three stories high in 16K resolution. (!)  I could read the time on John Mayer’s wristwatch and see how Jeff Chimenti’s fingernails are trimmed.  And their images were surrounded by swirling visuals as great as any psychedelic trip could conjure.

photo by Jeffrey Zoni

photo by Joseph Stone

This is the Acid Tests in the 21st century — where the liquid light gel projections pioneered in San Francisco in the mid-’60s progressed to.  In fact, they replicate a bona fide gel-glass light show at one point, looking like a liquid slide show from 1967, but it swirls from floor to ceiling — and can project multi-story close-ups of any musician in the middle of it.

photo by Anton Bodor

The band has been involved in this production for many months, and gawd-bless John Mayer for taking the lead role in the interface between the visuals and the music, as you can read about in this highly-recommended in-depth account of how it was created.  “This is sensory hijacking,” he said.  “And it’s very fun to be behind that mischief.”

In fact, the Bay Area band connected with their cinematic neighbor George Lucas’s Industrial Light & Magic to create the opening & closing sequences of a close up of their home at 710 Ashbury that pulls out to outer space before returning to the house at the end of the show.

I thought a couple months ago — “How long until the Academy Awards are held in this place?!”  Then the NHL (of all things) beat them to it, hosting their player draft there in June 2024.

This venue, by its very existence, is going to change how we experience live shows.

It’s not just a planetarium — it’s aurally designed as a concert venue.  And here’s the crazy thing — the 300 and 400 level sections are the best seats!  In every show you’ve ever been to, the seats closest to the stage were the most desirable.  In the world of the future — which is here now — the upper levels are the best seats in the house. (!)

I always said about the Grand Canyon — “No matter how big you think it is, it’s bigger.”  It’s the same thing here.  No matter how high your expectations . . . it’s going to exceed them.  Everybody was saying that online before I went . . . and they were right.

photo by Jason Elkins

I hope everyone I know is able to experience this.  As much as I describe it, or as many photos as you see or videos you watch, it’s not possible to get it until you’re in it.

If you don’t make it this residency, the Dead are gonna come back next year.  Or if there’s any band playing there you remotely like, make it a priority to go.  Concert ticket prices are insane now anyway, so you might as well go to something that is light years ahead of any other experience you’ve ever had.

Taylor Swift is also doing an amazing similarly long 3½-hour visually spectacular show — but it’s in a football stadium.  This is in a relatively small enclosed dome that’s designed specifically for visuals and sound … not football.

As I wrote mid-show — “How did we ever do concerts before?!”  😄

This changes everything.


photo by Mark Vallem




If you want to read more of my writings on the Grateful Dead and company —

I take you to a show at Red Rocks in 1982 in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Jack Kerouac.

The cover of The Hitchhiker's Guide to Jack Kerouac by Brian Hassett


Or if you’re into the Merry Pranksters and the Beat Generation — here’s How The Beats Begat The Pranksters & Other Adventure Tales.

Jack Kerouac, Ken Kesey, George Walker – The Beats and the Merry Pranksters


Or if you like that Cassady cat who transcended both — there’s On The Road with Cassadys & Furthur Visions.


Or here’s a whole section on this site of nothing but Grateful Dead articles and stories.

Or if you’re into wild trips in historic venues — check out this epic Adventure at Shakespeare’s Globe in London.




by Brian Hassett   —

Or here’s my Facebook page if you wanna join in there —

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7 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Thomas Kauertz // Jun 30, 2024 at 5:04 PM

    Thank you Brian, I wished I could make it to one of the shows, because of the music, the deadheads, and like you know for the architecture!
    But Las Vegas is not around the corner of Germany! . . . this year …
    I love reading your view about it!
    Let see, if they will be back next year.

  • 2 Brian Hassett // Jun 30, 2024 at 6:11 PM

    I’d LOVE to do Vegas with you, Thomas! The architecture everywhere is so imaginative, whimsical and fantastical.

    I heard talk about them returning in spring next year. Let’s keep tuned to the frequency and see if we can meet the beat.

  • 3 Howard Park // Jun 30, 2024 at 6:47 PM

    I first went to Las Vegas in 1991 for the shows at the Sam Boyd Silver Bowl, last in mid-June 2024 at the Sphere. I’ve probably been back there 25 times. I’ve seen snow there and so much rain that it flooded the casino at the (then) Las Vegas Hilton (now Westgate), home of Elvis. As the water covered the flow people barely noticed as they roped off the waterlogged sections. A little before that time, the Hilton was considered one of the best “ballrooms” on the planet. THANKS for such an informative review. I’m less sure that the Sphere is the future. It cost, $2.3 billion. I’m also not quite so high on Las Vegas but the Times Square comparison is apt.

  • 4 Gubba Topham // Jun 30, 2024 at 6:52 PM

    Great piece, Brian! Hope we get to do Vegas together one day! “Bright light city gonna set my soul, gonna set my soul on fire!”

  • 5 Audra Yeomans // Jun 30, 2024 at 7:21 PM

    Spot on Brian Hassett! Love it. ❤️⚡️✌️ 100% agree pictures and videos don’t do it justice. You have exspherience it!

  • 6 Greg Nisbet // Jun 30, 2024 at 7:32 PM

    Love your point about the nosebleed seats being the best seats in the house!

  • 7 Brian Humniski // Jul 3, 2024 at 12:45 PM

    Thanks for your inheightened look at the future of concert enjoyment. I am looking forward to seeing it myself next year. Vegas is back on the radar.

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