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The To-Do List, Jan. 12-15 

by John Tarpley

WEDNESDAY 1/12

MADBALL

7 p.m., Downtown Music Hall. $15

Now closing in on 23 years as one of the most essential hardcore acts to spring from Alphabet City, Madball, spun directly off from legendary Agnostic Front, have remained a reliable force of the genre, releasing their spin on rap-infused punk at a steady tack since their inception. All this despite a consistently rotating lineup — one that, until recently, included drummer Jay Weinberg, whose famous dad landed him a spot behind the E Street Band skins over summer 2009. Unconcerned with making wild leaps forward, Madball is still harkening back to that point in punk's puberty where grunge lived next door and tough-guy trenchcoats were required angry kid uniform. The Canadian hardcore crew of Comeback Kid rounds out the bill alongside locals (and Downtown Music steadies) Cruel Hand.

THURSDAY 1/13

REEL BIG FISH

9 p.m., Juanita's. $15.

Conceived in the '60s by Caribbean rhythms and far-traveling AM stations and birthed by Prince Buster and his rood boi buddies in tropical studio shacks, ska grazed to maturity in the fields of 1980s Northern England, shepherded by greats like The Specials and Madness. Exported to America in the '90s, it was injected with West Coast punk hormones and gobbled up by a hungry public. Since then, the fatted calf of ska has been pecked clean to the bleached bone. As the years went on, bands became more scarce, ideas more stale and dudes by the thousands found out the hard way that wearing checkered bowling shirts with Airwalks gets you nothing more than an express ticket to Celibacy City. What I'm saying is that you've gotta hand it to Reel Big Fish. Years after ska became synonymous with irrelevancy, the So-Cal troupe is still in demand from a hungry fanbase. And at risk of losing any rock-crit cred I've collected along the years, I'll own up to my own tuba-sized soft spot for RBF. Their cover of A-Ha's "Take On Me" can still make me skank if no one's looking and (gulp!) if you ask me on the right day, "Why Do They Rock So Hard," their 1998 moment of genre-mashing gold, would be one of my desert island discs. For a band that sung "there's so many fish in the sea/they all look like me," Reel Big Fish may not spawn little fishies as much as they used to, but they sure as hell out-swam the rest of the pack. The electro goofball duo of Koo Koo Kanga Roo and Fayetteville ska-punkers Six Hung Sprung open.

FRIDAY 1/14

HONKY

8 p.m., Downtown Music Hall. $10.

Go ahead. Your mom told you not to judge a book by its cover, but chances are your mom never heard of Honky. The Texas trio sounds exactly like you'd expect. And it's not a bad thing. Rather, it ain't no bad thang. They're the sound of trailer park hedonism, an awesomely pungent hick-punk brew that sounds like flat beer and ditch weed smells. Formed by J.D. Pinkus after the psychedelic shock-rock of his old band, the inimitable Butthole Surfers, fizzled out, Honky has gigged since 1996, crisscrossing the country while remaining a boozy mainstay on their native Austin, Texas, stages. Now with Bobby Ed Landgraf (guitarist for notorious X-rated R&B geriatric Blowfly) on guitar and Little Rock's Justin Collins (of Go Fast and the late, great The Looks) on drums, Honky's still at it, churning out so-stupid-it's-gotta-be-smart tracks like "Walkin' on Moonshine," "Love to Smoke Yr Weed" and tons of others that make a great soundtrack for getting spun on Mini Thins and siphoning gas from your mama's Geo Metro before she gets back from her Skoal run. Honky gets support from a gang of like-minded Little Rockers with throwback punk Outstanding Red Team, psychobilly staples Josh the Devil & the Sinners and the testosterone bomb known to locals as the Tom Sweet Band.

OAKLAWN OPENING WEEKEND

1 p.m., Oaklawn Jockey Club.

Ever since Duelist won the first race in Oaklawn history 105 years ago, opening weekend at Arkansas's horse racing mecca has been an institution not only for the state, but for horse-racing fans at large. Last year, more than 20,000 voices were lost hollering on opening day and almost four tons of Oaklawn's famous 50-cent corned beef sandwiches were devoured on Saturday alone. This season, the track offers 32 stakes races and $4.6 million in purses. Of course, that's just the tip of the betting season. And I don't really know what it means. Get any deeper and we start talking about maiden allowances and breakages and quinellas and other words that are fun to look at but might as well be Greek to me. And besides, this isn't Today's Racing Digest. An expert I'm not, but I can assure you that no matter how plum-licking little you know about the ins and outs of the sport, it's worth the trek just to get lost in the circus. For all you fellow know-nothings, here's a tip: The more beer you drink, the prettier the horses get. And that's good enough for me. The Oaklawn gates open again on Saturday and Monday, Jan. 15 and 17, both at 1 p.m.

'SPEECH AND DEBATE'

7:30 p.m., The Weekend Theater. $14-$18

The Weekend Theater puts 2011 into gear with nothing other than a sly teen sex comedy. Playwright Stephen Karam's celebrated "Speech and Debate" follows three Salem, Ore., teen-agers – a shifty dork, a gay high schooler and a dowdy young lady – as they try to out their high school drama teacher whose appetite for young boys is on par with the town's neo-conservative mayor. But what could turn into another broad, act-by-numbers farce goes crazy with imagined banter between a (gay) teen-aged Abraham Lincoln and Mary Warren, the star litigant of the Salem Witch Trials, not to mention a queer pride twist on Cain and Abel. Gen-Y to the max, with OMG GTFO moments told through IM logs and LOLs carved out of IRL situations, theater doesn't get much more ultra-current than this farce.

SATURDAY 1/15

RECKLESS KELLY

9 p.m., Stickyz. $12 adv., $15 d.o.s.

Let's face it: Red Dirt country is responsible for a lot of the better country songs to have come out in the last few years, but it gets a bit samey-same at times. At worst, it sounds like the songs are written via Mad Libs: Insert "cigarette," "dirt road," "sittin' here, thinkin' 'bout..." at will. At best, it sounds something like Reckless Kelly: energetic, brash, clever and melodic. In 2008, when so many other bands were squeezing the last bit of life out of the same three guitar chords and writing Live Journal-grade lyrics, Reckless Kelly was busy writing "Bulletproof," a terrific album that could be the most politically outspoken country release since Johnny Cash's "Bitter Tears: Ballads of the American Indian." Sure, Bono and Billy Joe Armstrong can make four or five fine livings between the two of them by setting political outrage to music, but lefty provocation isn't always so welcome in country music circles. (See: Dixie Chicks.) That's not to say the band is Pete Seeger reincarnated, singularly focused on politics; the guys keep a sense of humor beside their guitars. Take a chance on "Ritalin and Wiggles," an "I have a crush on you, so let's do drugs together" song as funny and unexpectedly sweet as it gets. Last time Reckless Kelly came to town, Stickyz found itself packed to the walls even before half of fellow Red Dirt heroes Cross Canadian Ragweed stormed the stage for a surprise joint encore. If anyone left unimpressed, I certainly didn't see it; expect another packed house for the boys.

TRAVIS PORTER

10 p.m., Clear Channel Metroplex. $15 adv., $20 d.o.s.

The bulk of my musical diet consists of rap music. I may be able to quote Rick Ross like a scholar (but don't), but I didn't realize how exhausting it is to hear about G-6s, Maybachs, Aston Martins and Versace ad nauseum until 19-year-old rapper/producer Tyler the Creator, head of Los Angeles' soon-to-be-legendary Odd Future crew, growled, "I created O.F. because I felt we're more talented than 40-year old rappers talkin' 'bout Gucci." It's clear: Being frivolous is played out. And it looks like if the young underground gets its way, the big ballin' of the older generation is about to be traded in for simpler pleasures like partying, dancing, boot knockin' and even, in the case of Travis Porter, the Atlanta-based three-piece, "Waffle House." They might not be as heady as other up-and-comers, but who wants to think and dance? Travis Porter's videos have girls-next-door instead of supermodels, hoop-ty jet boats instead of yachts and talk about "feelin' like," not having, "a million bucks." It's music for house parties, not penthouse pimpin'. And it's an attitude that's in demand; Travis Porter spent 2010 exploding in the underground, trailblazing through Twitter, signing to Jive Records and being named one of the five "Hottest Breakthrough MCs of 2010" by MTV. Call it cocky pop-rap for a recession. Sure, my big thesis may crumble, seeing as how the trio's sitting at No. 15 on the Billboard rap charts with a song called "Make it Rain." Maybe they'll upgrade to exotic cars after the checks start rolling in. But a word of advice to the guys: Pay heed to Clipse's warning in "Mr. Me Too." Quoth Pusha T, "those crackers weren't playing fair at Jive."

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