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Big Frog

by Steven Shayman

Big Frog couples a love of the Grateful Dead’s loose, fun vibe with their own inspiration in their improvisational workouts. And given their tantalizingly short 45-minute sets when they opened for U.S. “jam band” moe in May, it’ll be a treat to see the homegrown Japanese outfit indulge in three-hour performances at its upcoming gigs.

Although guitarist Manabu’s fixation with Jerry Garcia is obvious, the end result overcomes the occasional Japanese tendency to overly emulate one’s influences and never gets in the way of an original groove.

With one U.S. East Coast tour under its belt (including a show at the famed Wetlands in New York City) as well as with frequent collaborations with like-minded American bands such as Phish and Gov’t Mule, Big Frog obviously possesses the ability to transcend cultural boundaries and is well positioned to carry forth Japan’s counterculture mantle.

The band is managed by rock impresario Tamotsu Saito, known for bringing the likes of Little Feat, David Grisman and others to these shores over the past 25 years. Saito also heads up the Japan operations of Relix, the New York-based magazine and record label with a longtime interest in all things Dead (and their present-day heirs to the scene). Big Frog has released one of its three commercially available CDs on Relix, though taping their concerts for private use is, as in the days of the Dead, highly encouraged.