This small south Arkansas city was once one of the top oil producers in the nation.
It was a busy Saturday night in Little Rock, what with Christmas parties and wolves of the All Night Drug variety (at White Water). Coming in from the cold, I wasn't expecting much of a turnout at Downtown Music, which had booked three relatively obscure local bands — Egyptr, Velvet Kente and Eclipse Glasses.
But the Little Rock punk venue on Capitol, which has gotten some welcome improvements, was comfortably crowded and warm. A single-room black-box venue that once advertised “Sound so loud it hurts!” now occupies two spacious rooms and features a large wrap-around bar, proper stage set-up and ample square-footage for dancing.
Egyptr opened Saturday night's show with a brief four-song set. The newly formed Fayetteville-based trio primed the audience with meaty, math-rock guitar riffs, framing songs tightly and then smearing them all around with deliberate disregard.
Next up was Velvet Kente, a four-piece funkadelic group whose upbeat reggae jams got people on their feet. The highlight of the set was a bluesy number during which the band's spirited lead singer asked us to repeat after him as he called out the name “Josephine.” As voices multiplied, the chorus built in intensity, until the song's wistful finale, which was received with roaring approval.
Afterwards, local collective Eclipse Glasses took the stage. The all-star ensemble boasts a who's who of Arkansas talent: Andrew Morgan (Chinese Girls), Lorenza Harrington (Sugar and the Raw, Applescruffs), Kyle Carpenter and Zach Reeves (Tel Aviv) and Colin Miles (the Moving Front). Creating a self-described blend of “funk, soul, electro, Afrobeat, reggae and weirdo disco,” Eclipse Glasses also stirs jazz and gypsy folk flair into the mix. At the heart of it all is Harrington's ardent trumpeting, which serves as the instrumental act's unwavering voice. There wasn't one person standing still. Feet shuffled; arms flailed. People got downright groovy. Two men — one dressed in a white top hat, sunglasses and tutu, the other wearing skinny jeans and a confident swagger — engaged in a dance-off. Miles introduced the next song as the band's last, but it didn't slow us down much. The crowd kept at it, working up a sweat. After a night of feel-good music and cheerful camaraderie, parting ways was difficult. Christmas lights paved the way home.
It isn't often that I go to a show in Little Rock knowing next to nothing about the bands playing. It's even more rare to find myself loving every minute of it. In the age of social networking as part of a band's promotional efforts, only one of these bands, Egyptr, has a MySpace page (www.myspace.com/egyptr) and currently no songs are posted. This will likely change soon, but until then the only way to hear these bands for yourself is to catch them live. Lucky you.
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