This small south Arkansas city was once one of the top oil producers in the nation.
For those who wonder why traveling indie rock bands almost never come to Little Rock, the show at Sticky Fingerz last Friday by Grand Archives, a Seattle outfit, was instructive. They performed to an almost-empty room — no more than 40 people by my count. Maybe the group missed the memo that unproven out-of-town acts struggle here?
It was slightly ironic that this show drew such a sparse crowd, as the band offered a species of countrified rock not far removed from the stuff that people in this area love. The material was refined rather than raucous, with pretty vocal harmonies and sunny major chords. Though the songs were run-of-the-mill, the band played their instruments and sang extremely well. For the most part they kept the volume quiet and the tempo relaxed, though when they occasionally showed off their power-pop chops they suggested how Weezer might have developed had Rivers Cuomo taken more inspiration from surf rock and less from metal. By the end of the night the band even managed to get about a quarter of the subdued crowd on its feet.
Grand Archives played on a busy evening about town, as the band's singer acknowledged when he joked that they had been dropped from the Juneteenth lineup at the last moment. But even disregarding that handicap, out-of-town bands are often at a disadvantage here; this city values the local and the known over the slightly exotic and unconventional. It's unlikely that an up-and-coming national act like Grand Archives will ever outdraw a local group like, say, Silverton, a Conway band that also played Friday night. At their White Water show, billed as their last for a while, the room was packed. I imagine the crowd there would have been just as big had another area favorite played, and that the turnout for Grand Archives would have been just as poor.
I don't suppose I can blame people for wanting to see their friends play, but when it comes to contemporary live music, Little Rock tends to stick to a formula. Sticky Fingerz and its companion space, Revolution down the street, have done the best job of featuring an array of rock bands — Mates of State, !!! and Black Mountain have each worked one of these venues over the past year. Other than Man Man at Downtown Music and Ted Leo at Juanita's, both of whom came last year, I'm hard-pressed to think of other out-of-town, name indie-rock acts that have performed recently at one of the city's clubs.
To Little Rock's credit, all of the above bands — each with at least one acclaimed album under its belt — got a high turnout. Maybe the abysmal showing for Grand Archives was an anomaly abetted by the group's relative newness. To be perfectly honest, the band didn't do anything earth shattering. But it's hard to get into a concert when no one's in the room, and a larger crowd would have changed the tone of the show. The members of Grand Archives bantered graciously on stage and did their best to please the people who came, but I imagine they won't be telling other bands that Little Rock is a place to play.
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