EXPANSIVE EXPERIENCE: Dead & Company put a new canvas to delightfully psychedelic use. (VN Staff/James Zoltak)

Vegas Residency Offers “Expanded” Opportunities

It’s a new phase for Dead & Company, the most commercially successful post-Jerry Garcia Grateful Dead iteration, as the Bob Weir and John Mayer-led sextet embarks on its first post-tour gig: a psychedelic 24-night residency at Sphere, the signature Las Vegas marvel once again put to remarkable use.

Opening night of the run May 16 drew a full-house to the 18,600-capacity Sphere, a highly touted venue that delivered for Deadheads and newcomers alike, with ultra-realistic imagery of the Haight-Ashbury District home where the nascent Grateful Dead resided in San Francisco.

From there, the shot pulls out, revealing all of the Bay: Aquatic Park, the Golden Gate, Pt. Reyes, the entire West Coast. As clouds recede below, the view pulls out further and by the time an Earth-orbiting satellite zooms by, there’s an audible reaction from the audience.

Dead-centric imagery is featured throughout the show, which stretched to about three hours playing time, with a 40-minute break. The set opened with “Feel Like A Stranger” and climaxed with “Not Fade Away.”

Among the highlights was a dancing skeleton who hops on a chopper and zooms through a virtual world while Bob Weir, John Mayer, Oteil Burbridge, Jeff Chimenti, Mickey Hart and Jay Lane crank out “Hell in a Bucket.”

ENJOYING THE RIDE: Las Vegas is familiar territory for many Deadheads, but Sphere is a long ride from Sam Boyd Stadium. (VN Staff/James Zoltak)

Dead faves were interspersed with images and animations of a rainforest, a western setting for the faux “Me and My Uncle” film, featuring Bobby “Ace” Weir, the band’s rhythm guitarist and co-vocalist who joined the original band as a teen in 1960s Palo Alto, California, and so much more.

At one point the Sphere was covered with images of tickets and passes to Dead shows from through the decades,, which in the early days were mail ordered through the Dead’s dynamic fanclub. The images made it easy for those of a certain age and deadheadedness to spot a show they went to.

The interplay between keyboardist Chimenti (Bob Weir Band & RatDog) and lead guitarist JMayer was, at times, spectacularly improvisational, and the band’s spacier jams were Jerry Garcia-worthy versions of the Dead’s tried-and-true formula of taking the audience for a white-knuckle sonic ride before delivering all safely to their destination — the song they might well have forgotten they were listening to in the first place.

Original Dead member Hart and his drum partner Lane, with help from bassist Oteil Burbridge (Allman Brothers Band and Tedeschi Trucks), produced a rhythmically psychedelic space segment that vibrated the floor of the venue and topped the notable segments from the band’s final tours.

By the end of the set, which began just after 7:30 p.m. and ended a little after 11, the delighted Deadheads filed through the Venetian Hotel and onto the strip, making it all feel like an incredibly new twist on an act dating back to the mid-1960s, one that has a rich history in Sin City thanks to its shows at Sam Boyd Stadium.

The Venetian, meanwhile, is housing the free two-floor Dead Forever exhibit, featuring photos by Jay Blakesberg, artwork by Hart, a scaled down replica of the Wall of Sound that was part of the Grateful Dead’s touring machine. The massive towers of speakers are recreated, by the way, during the Sphere set.

The Dead Forever Experience was spearheaded by Kristina “Red” Tanner of Dead & Company’s co-management company, Activist, and Vibee. Tanner secured the unique installations to help create a value-added attraction with fans in mind and ensuring that every inch of the space was compelling.

The experience includes a 75-seat theater showing last May’s Barton Hall Dead & Company show.

ALTERED STATE: Mickey Hart, Bob Weir, Jeff Chimenti, Jay Lane and John Mayer delight a sold-out house on opening night of their Sphere run. (VN Staff/James Zoltak)

The walk-though exhibit opens at 10 a.m. and closes at 6 p.m. five nights per week during the Sphere run.

As if that wasn’t enough, Deadheads are staging a Vegas version of “Shakedown Street,” the flea-market style marketplace that has been a fixture on the band’s tours. This one is at the Tuscany Suites & Casino each show day from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Bottom line: if you like the Dead, you will love seeing them at the Sphere which is truly a one-of-a-kind mind-expanding experience that’s worthy of the hype. And with all there is to do in Las Vegas — Pearl Jam and Sebastian Maniscalco were also in town — the fun, and music, never stops.

Dead & Company has 23 remaining dates at Sphere, with the run extending into mid July.

(Editor’s note: James Zoltak is an unapologetic Deadhead whose first shows were at New York City’s Palladium in 1975 and Rooselevelt Stadium in Jersey City, New Jersey, in ’76. His mom picked him up after both shows.)