- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 6, 2001

The Grateful Dead may be gone, but the band sure casts a long shadow. While jazz and blues artists have long been known for spontaneous jams, rock didn't really lay a strong claim to the genre until the Dead and the Allman Brothers began turning the three-minute ditty into the 20-minute opus back in the late '60s and '70s.

Now, more than 35 years after Jerry Garcia and crew began riffing off each other, jam band music is more popular than ever, with a grassroots following that often leads to more tickets sold than albums.

One of the bands at the forefront of this movement is The Big Wu , a jam band with world music tastes and a neo-hippie audience, who play the State Theatre tonight.

True to the jam esthetic, the Big Wu didn't start out hoping to make a million bucks.

"We never intended on making a living at this," says guitarist and vocalist Jason Fladager, one of the group's founding members. "It was just something to do for fun, but people got into the sound we were making."

The band formed at St. Olaf College in Minnesota back in 1992, but didn't really take off until it secured a spot on the 1997 H.O.R.D.E. Festival tour. The current lineup features Mr. Fladager, Chris Castino (vocals, guitar), Andy Miller (bass, vocals), Al Oikari (keyboards, vocals) and Terry VanDeWalker (percussion, vocals).

While the Big Wu's sound has evolved over the years, the group has maintained its focus on insightful lyrics, tight harmonies and musical improvisation.

"There are songs that we take out there and experiment with and see what we can do with," Mr. Fladager says. "That's the fun of playing music and not knowing what's coming next."

Having recently started its own company (Bivco Records) due to the collapse of its previous record label, the band is keeping busy by re-releasing its two studio albums and a prior live release, along with "3/13/98," a live recording that fans have been bootlegging for years.

Another live album, taken from this fall's tour, and a third studio release, are planned for early next year.

But, as Mr. Fladager says, the band's strength is truly in its live shows, not in its recordings.

"We like to go out and … make everyone feel like they're a part of the whole process," he says. "There's a lot of energy at our live shows … I mean, we play different versions of the same song, the disco version or this version or that version. It keeps us on our toes."

• • •

Strange names seems to be par for the rock band course. Take the Baltimore band Unprovoked Moose Attack , who name has unfortunately gained more attention than its music.

The brainchild of Scott Cimino (keyboards, saxophone, vocals), the rest of the group was assembled mostly through newspaper ads over a period of several years. Since then, the group has tightened its sound, and while it sometimes teeters into jams, Moose Attack tends to have a more focused and controlled sound than the typical jam band.

The group is rounded out by Gregg Simmons (guitars, vocals), Brendan Ciotta (bass, vocals), Matt Ward (drums), Nick Reider (trumpet) and John Stagg (saxophone).

"When I was deciding to put this together five years ago, the big thing that was going on was ska," Mr. Cimino says. "I thought maybe the next big thing will be Chicago in the year 2000 and maybe I can get that to happen."

The band has recently started a weekly residency at Jaxx and will play every Wednesday night, hoping to expand its local fan base.

"There are not a lot of horn bands out there," Mr. Cimino says. "We play funk songs that people will definitely know and like and some they probably haven't heard from in a long time."

The band has had a few lucky breaks so far, winning a grant from the Jim Beam "Emerging Music Program" and snagging MTV play by having its songs featured on the show "Fanatic Undercover." In addition, its debut self-titled album has been selling well at live shows and over the Internet.

As for the name?

"I was on the phone talking to my girlfriend at the time and she had mentioned she was watching TV … and she said there was this guy on TV who was attacked by a moose," Mr. Cimino says. "I said, 'Unprovoked?' And she said 'I don't know.'

"I later thought it would make a good band name … Unfortunately I've now become the resident moose expert in the family," Mr. Cimino jokes.

"Now I can't get away from it … I've got moose everything."

• • •

The '70s progressive rock band King Crimson has had its current lineup for close to seven years, which is something of a record for the on-again, off-again group. Following its stunning debut "In the Court of the Crimson King" in 1969, the band has barely made it through a tour or an album without radically altering its membership.

Through it all, though, guitarist and Mellotron wiz Robert Fripp has turned King Crimson into his bizarre vision and has made current bandmates Adrian Belew (guitar, lead vocals), Trey Gunn (touch guitar) and Pat Mastelotto (drums) part of that journey.

That trip includes the kind of driving, taut percussion and dark, experimental guitar work that has influenced modern groups, such as Nine Inch Nails and Tool.

King Crimson will likely highlight plenty of new material from its upcoming "Nuovo Metal" project when it visits George Washington University's Lisner Auditorium Wednesday. Opening up is legendary Led Zeppelin percussionist John Paul Jones.

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