The twenty smoothest Grateful Dead transitions

One of the things that made the Grateful Dead so special was its ability to flawlessly transition from one song into the next, often taking the audience, as well as band members, completely by surprise. Masters of improvisation, these musicians had such great non-verbal communication on stage that they could follow any change and instantly fall into places. These are the twenty smoothest transitions they played through the years.

See also: The ten biggest jam-band scene stereotypes

20. "Lazy Lightnin'" > "Supplication" The Mosque - Barton Hall, Ithaca, NY, 5/8/77

This is a popular transition played through the years. This version is a particular highlight, as Bobby's vocals are completely on, and the beat hitting in this sequence is total high energy.

19. "Lost Sailor" > "Saint of Circumstance" Frost Amphitheatre - Palo Alto, California,10/10/82

Bob Weir's especially on at this show, and his vocals at the end of "Lost Sailor" are fantastic; he's giving it his all as the melody of "Saint of Circumstance" comes in perfectly over it, seamlessly transitioning between the two.

18. "Playing in the Band" > "Iko Iko" Zoo Amphitheatre, Oklahoma City, OK, 8/1/82

This "Playing in the Band" goes into an eerie and, at times, dissonant jam, with Jerry throwing down some major chords and whipping the band right into a version of "Iko Iko" that quickly turns this into a funky dance party.

17. "Goin' Down the Road Feelin' Bad" > "Cold Rain and Snow" Fillmore East - New York, New York, 4/29/71

Superb playing starting with "Alligator," this jam coming out of "Goin' Down the Road Feelin' Bad" is delicate, as Phil Lesh hits a few bass notes, and just like that, the vocals for "Cold Rain and Snow" start, effortlessly bringing the rest of the band in.

16. "Drums" > "Space" Nassau Coliseum - Uniondale, New York, 3/29/90

This segment, unique to the Grateful Dead, gives the drummers a chance to really breathe while the rest of the band takes a break, and vice versa. Things can get very creative in the sometimes misunderstood "Drums">"Space" portion of the show, and this version with Branford Marsalis on saxophone has an extra level of weirdness.

15. "Victim or the Crime" > "Foolish Heart" RFK Stadium, Washington, DC, 7/12/90

Released on View From the Vault, Vol. 2, this ripping version of "Victim or the Crime" segues into "Foolish Heart," with Garcia shifting the key and repeating the guitar riff, and the drums quickly fall into place quickly. The song goes on to an extended jam and then transitions into "Dark Star" to a roar of applause. The transition into "Foolish Heart" begins around 15:40.

14. "Dancing in the Street" > "Wharf Rat" Shrine Auditorium - Los Angeles, California, 10/14/76

The jam out of this high energy but loose "Dancing in the Street" is charging and fun, and then it's brought down to drums and Jerry tapping the twinkly melody of "Wharf Rat" to life, with the tempo raising at the end to sandwich the song nicely, ending back into "Dancing in the Street".

13. "Help on the Way" > "Slipknot!" > "Fire on the Mountain" Boston Garden - Boston, Massachusetts, 9/20/91

The usual "Help">"Slip">"Franklin's" gets an unexpected surprise here, as the band flows into "Fire on the Mountain" instead, and the crowd goes nuts in response.

12. "I Need a Miracle" > "Shakedown Street" Springfield Civic Center - Springfield, Massachusetts, 1/15/79

A great way to open the second set, this transition into "Shakedown Street" is completely unexpected, and it comes in as Garcia plays down the scale and then back up. Phil and the drummers suddenly shift the tempo, following his lead without missing a respective beat.

11. "Estimated Prophet" > "St. Stephen" Winterland Arena, San Francisco, 6/9/77

This psychedelic, drippy version of "Estimated Prophet" melts into "St. Stephen," with Garcia tossing in the guitar melody, and the band quickly joining in on a slower tempo version.

10. "Dark Star" > "Wharf Rat" Capitol Theatre - Port Chester, New York, 2/18/71

This show marks the first live performance of "Wharf Rat" and then it goes into some of the most blissful sounds the band has ever created, dropping beautifully back into the last verse of "Dark Star." It was named the "Beautiful Jam" after being released on the box set, So Many Roads (1965-1995).

9. "Eyes of the World" > "China Doll" Roscoe Maples Pavilion - Palo Alto, California, 2/9/73

This is the first live performance of "Eyes of the World" (starts around 2:00), and it's played here as if it's been in the repertoire forever, and then, with just a few notes in a different key played by Garcia, the music is taken all the way down, and Phil Lesh plays a quick bass riff, and "China Doll" sets in with a completely different mood than the previous song.

8. "Scarlet Begonias" > "Victim of the Crime" Shoreline Amphitheatre - Mountain View, California, 8/16/91

This transition is gorgeous and gradual, with Bruce Hornsby on keys planting the seed, bending the melody of "Scarlet Begonias" into a minor key, until the vocals smoothly come in. This is improvisation that sounds like orchestration.

7. "The Other One" > "Me and My Uncle" Hollywood Paladium - Hollywood, California, 8/6/71

This combination showed up quite a few times in 1971, with the rhythm of "The Other One" completely deconstructing, just to have a Bob Weir throw a couple chords down and begin to sing "Me and My Uncle" without missing a beat.

6. "Help on the Way" > "Slipknot!">"Franklin's Tower" Great American Music Hall - San Francisco, California, 8/13/75

Released on One from the Vault, this version of the often strung together sequence is supreme. They sound so sure of themselves here, despite the fact that it was their first performance together after a nineteen-month break, and the Bill Graham intro only adds to it.

5. "Mind Left Body Jam" > "U.S. Blues" Boston Garden - Boston, Massachusetts, 6/28/74

"Mind Left Body Jam" is a four chord theme that pops up every so often when the Dead play. This show has a thirty-minute version that comes out of the "Weather Report Suite," and the dichotomy of the jam versus the blues guitar riff it starts out with, sounds amazing when they overlap for a moment.

4. "Scarlet Begonias" > "Fire on the Mountain" Barton Hall - Ithaca, NY, 5/8/77

Released as Grateful Dead Live at Barton Hall, this show is so good it's in the Library of Congress. The version of this popular duo is highly lauded, some say overrated, but it's perfect in our book. The high hat builds up anticipation with Keith Godchaux sounding heavenly on piano until the drummers fall perfectly into "Fire on the Mountain," with the rest of the band following quickly behind.

3. "Playing in the Band" > "Uncle John's Band" Pauley Pavilion - Los Angeles, California, 11/17/73

This show was released as Dick's Picks Vol. 5, and the whole song sandwich is the Dead at its confident finest. The musical communication is incredible as the guys segue into "Uncle John's Band" and then into "Morning Dew" and then back into "Uncle John's Band" and finally back into "Playing in the Band," never losing the point or the energy.

2. "Dark Star" > "Morning Dew" Strand Lyceum - London, England, 5/23/72 This show was released to massive popularity on the live box set Europe '72, and not only is the "Dark Star" jam wildly exploratory with specific thematic segments, but the delicate way Jerry drops the guitar riff of "Morning Dew" tugs the heartstrings and provides a huge release after so much spacey tension. "Dark Star" starts at 1:54:00, and "Morning Dew" starts around 2:28:00.

1. "China Cat Sunflower" > "I Know You Rider" Winterland Ballroom - San Francisco, California, 10/17/74

"China Cat Sunflower" transitioning into "I Know You Rider" is one of the most prominent pairings in their repertoire. This version, which was shown on the Grateful Dead Movie bonus DVD, is exemplary, with both songs effortlessly bleeding into each other as if they were always written to be one song.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Leslie Simon