Autumn temps are perfect for outdoor activities
We've got great local venues of all shapes and sizes here in Little Rock, but from time to time, I need a break from dark rooms, smoke and loud noises. So last weekend, with great anticipation for open spaces and strange animal noises, I headed for the Little Rock Zoo, a place I hadn't been since I was probably 10.
Saturday marked the kick-off of Rock 'n' Roar, a planned series of concerts hosted by the zoo. The idea, event organizer Justin Bank told me, came after the success of the zoo's animal-sex tour “Woo at the Zoo,” which culminated with a performance by popular local crooner Christopher Denny. Bank and the zoo's Susan Altrui tapped Burt Taggart, head of Max Recordings, to book the event. Saturday's show featured three acts from Taggart's roster — a stripped-down version of Pants, featuring Pete Jones and John Housely; the Good Fear, and the Easys.
The Civitan Amphitheater, a charming, expansive and, apparently, underused space covered by Riverfront Amphitheatre-style awnings, was to host the evening's concert, but by the time I got through the gate, hobnobbed and picked up several tasty carne asada tacos from Luncheria Alicia, a taco truck Taggart had secured for the night, Jones and Housely were winding down and a storm was brewing.
So en masse, the concert meandered towards the zoo's new dining headquarters, Cafe Africa — down a path, past the spider monkey island, past the apes and antelope and the Asian elephants. It was dark, about to storm and all the animals were hiding ominously. Golf carts zipped around intently.
Cafe Africa, though, was all warmth and wood, with high ceiling and exposed rafters and a mammoth stone fireplace and chimney, on which the room's centerpiece, a giant painting of a placidly majestic lion, hung. Cafe Africa managed wan hot dogs and school bus yellow cheese dip for nachos, and Luncheria Alicia found its way to a spot just a step outside the cafe, too.
As the Good Fear, a band led by Little Rocker Zach Holland that otherwise includes five guys from Fayetteville (who, it should be commended, made the drive here and back in one day, just for the show) sound checked, the crowd of a hundred or so buzzed happily. Little kids dropped drawing materials to chase other little kids, while young moms mingled. A few grey-hairs foot-tapped in the back.
Cavernous Cafe Africa was perhaps not built for live music, but no one looked unhappy. The Good Fear, who've been long sequestered recording a sophomore album, played with a flair for the dramatic, stopping and starting in booming clashes. Todd Gill, late of Lucero, who plays guitar and occasionally sings lead, gave a shout out to one young, passionate fan whose mom had earlier conveyed that he'd taken the Good Fear's first album to show-and-tell. Then he launching into the chromatic burner “The Way We Were.” If the new songs the band previewed are any indication, the new album, due in the fall, will be upbeat. On Saturday, Holland sang about sunshine and smiling, more than once. Stay tuned.
By the time the Easys took the stage, the crowd dispersed a bit, hitting up the taco stand, commiserating outside and, I don't know, maybe exploring the zoo at night. They missed a stirring set. Led by Isaac Alexander, the prolific and talented singer/songwriter who also leads Big Silver and plays drums in the Boondogs, the Easys played a dreamy set of material mostly taken from its latest album, “Blood Capsule.” Alexander sang full-throated, phrasing a little like Elvis Costello; guitarist Charles Wyrick made space-noises with his slide; bassist Jason Weinheimer got out front a couple of times with thick slabs of distortion; Rob Bell pounded the keyboard; and John Crowley kept everything steady on drums. In the end, the band played its typical closing song, “Dandelions,” interpolating it with the Pixies' “Wave of Mutilation” just to mix things up. Then it rained torrentially and everyone, at least those who lingered after the show, got soaked.
It was a blast.