Last night, Dead & Company reassembled in Las Vegas to kick off their Dead Forever Sphere residency, the band’s first shows since capping off The Final Tour in San Francisco last summer. After a biblical 40 nights of U2 and a mind-blowing four nights of Phish, expectations were set extremely high for shows at Sphere, and Dead & Company did not disappoint. [Revisit our coverage of the entire opening weekend here: Night 2 | Night 3].

Walking into Sphere, it was immediately clear this was no ordinary Grateful Dead show. The futuristic atrium buzzed as tie-dye-clad Deadheads of every vintage strolled to their sections, but it was when they stepped inside the concert hall itself that the scale of the spectacle really sank in.

Upon entering, fans were confronted with a perplexing image of what seemed to be a massive wall of scaffolding—reminiscent of, yet too big to be, the Grateful Dead’s legendary Wall of Sound speaker stacks as viewed from the back. The crowd erupted as Bob Weir, John Mayer, Mickey Hart, Jay Lane, Oteil Burbridge, and Jeff Chimenti took the stage and opened with “Feel Like a Stranger”. Video of the band loomed large on the Sphere screen, overlaid atop the scaffolding, which was illuminated with red and blue lighting.

At the end of the tune, as fans likely began to wonder if large video of the band could possibly be the extent of the Sphere visuals, the wall of scaffolding split open, with a gap in the shape of a 13-point lightning bolt revealing the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco—specifically 710 Ashbury, where the Grateful Dead famously once lived. Throughout the ensuing song, “Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo”, the crowd seemed to lift off from the ground and float up above San Francisco, through the atmosphere, and into a transitive night full of starry diamonds.

Pink, purple, and blue nebulae spread across the Sphere screen during “Jack Straw”, with video of the band appearing to float among the multihued heavenly bodies, though it was during “Bird Song” that the evening really took flight. A tropical waterfall with larger-than-life-sized flowers, including some birds-of-paradise, transformed the venue into a vibrant rainforest, and the band finally started to loosen up a bit musically as a rainbow appeared over crowd.

As the band dipped its toes into the night’s first real improvisation, the chemistry between Mayer and Chimenti—which over the years has become one of the best part of Dead & Company’s jams—began to bubble as if the pair had been practicing together since San Francisco. What a joy to see them on stage together again.

After playing almost exclusively at baseball stadiums for eight years of tours, the relatively small Sphere stage brought the band physically closer together, resulting in more intimate connection and musical interaction, and the quality of the sound, thanks to Sphere’s beam-forming audio technology, was miles above any previous Dead & Company show in terms of quality and clarity. You could even hear Mickey’s percussion, loud and clear, which might have been due to the shift in venue, but I’d like to think it’s because Oteil took my suggestion and told front of house to turn him up in the mix).

“Me and My Uncle” featured a fun wild west backdrop with a title screen introducing Bob Weir as the star of a cowboy film entitled Ace, with the rest of the band serving as his co-stars. The campy take on the western ballad flowed into “Brown-Eyed Women”, which included a particularly pretty piano solo by Jeff Chimenti. The humble keyboardist played twice through the song’s form, eliciting loud cheers from the crowd each time, before passing the baton to Mayer. The two traded back and forth for another two forms, again reminding fans what a loss it would be if their final tour together had actually been the end of their musical partnership—and how lucky they were to witness that live chemistry once again.

“Cold Rain and Snow” featured a variety of Grateful Dead art from old ticket stubs, posters, and backstage passes and capped off a relatively tame first set, leaving fans to wonder if it was just a normal set one—which traditionally has consisted of more succinct songs as opposed the more improv-heavy second set—or if the limitations imposed by coordinating with Sphere visuals might be the culprit.

That question seemed to be answered when the band returned for set two and opened with “Uncle John’s Band” as a literal paint-by-numbers morning sky transformed from black and white to a colorful cartoon landscape with a rainbow arching over the band. Still, the group delved into some free improvisation during the song’s odd-timed, 7/4 jam section, starting the second frame off strong.

In true Merry Prankster fashion, Dead & Company messed with the audience’s perspective during “Help on the Way”. After erecting a virtual Wall of Sound throughout the song, the systems huge speaker stacks began to stretch and the whole room seemed to start lifting up and floating above the background mountain landscape. The speakers transformed before the audience’s eyes into a Mario Kart-esqe rainbow road ribonning  hrough a galaxy of multihued star systems before settling on Saturn’s rings for “Slipknot!”—and all the while, the music never stopped. In fact, here, for the first time, it seemed purposely coordinated with the visuals when the band seemingly reacted to Saturn’s appearance by moving on to the final section of the song.

Chimenti’s organ solo during “Franklin’s Tower” once again got crowd audibly riled up before the band suddenly dipped down in volume for song’s second verse with masterful precision. The visuals were simple, with a Stealie-adorned disco ball spinning above the stage.

An emotional “He’s Gone” made everyone smile, smile, smile (and cheer) for the line, “Steal your face right off your head,” before the song gave way to “Drums”/”Space”. The ever-divisive percussive portion of the show turned out to be one of the night’s visual highlights. A spiral galaxy of floating drums and percussion instruments from around the world bled into to psychedelic, geometric patterns and a floating brain with glowing synapses, with video of Hart, Lane, and Burbridge in the center of the screen if you looked straight up to the heavens.

Oteil (let him sing) had his face painted as at previous shows, though just a modest design on his forehead. It’s also probably safe to say that he was the first musician ever to perform barefoot at Sphere.

John Mayer delivered a powerful solo during “Standing on the Moon”, with simple video magnifying the band above. A slow and groovy “St. Stephen” featured liquid, lava lamp-like visuals. The ambling tune was almost reminiscent of the era not-so-affectionately referred to as Dead & Slow, but during the jam section, Mayer’s guitar solo ratcheted energy up significantly, with Oteil settling into a double time rhythm that brought the energy to a new high to match the psychedelic visuals.

“Hell in a Bucket” was another high point visually. A giant skeleton Uncle Sam busted some serious moves before taking the audience on a trippy motorcycle journey thourgh a technicolor world populated by dancing bears, flying turtles, and other Grateful Dead iconography, giving new meaning to the lyric, “at least I’m enjoying the ride.”

A surprising cover of “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” signaled the beginning of the end of the show, as the crowd’s perspective slowly descended from above the Earth, zooming in further and further until arriving back down at 710 Ashbury, where it all began—the show, and the Dead.

Old black and white scrap book photos from throughout the years—but mostly from the Grateful Dead’s early days—decorated the Sphere during a truly touching “Not Fade Away” that capped off a spectacular night one of 24 and will likely conclude the whole run.

Even though the bar was set incredibly high, and even though the use of Grateful Dead iconography, video, and psychedelic visuals was pretty much what any Deadhead following Sphere news could have predicted, night one at Sphere was nonetheless mind-blowing. The band was at its finest and sounded better than ever in the new venue, and the familial feeling of being together to experience something totally new and different together made it truly magical. And there’s still 23 more nights to go!

For a complete list of upcoming Dead & Company dates at Sphere, click here. Revisit our coverage of the entire opening weekend here: Night 2 | Night 3. Fans hoping to get in on the action can find tons of face-value tickets for the entire run via CashorTrade here.

Below, view a gallery of photos from the first night of Dead & Company at Sphere via Alive Coverage and Rich Fury.