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As a 15-year-old, Monica immediately separated herself from the flurry of samey-same young performers of the mid-'90s with the release of "Don't Take It Personal (Just One of Dem Days)," an instant R&B classic and a defining junior high dance-floor-filler if there ever was one. Soon after, the young vocal gymnast found herself with a triple platinum debut album and a wave of expectation from fans. Not long after, she returned to the charts as half of an all-star duet with fellow teen-pop star Brandy in the Grammy-award winning "The Boy is Mine." In short, Monica churned out monster hit after monster hit for years. And junior high dances and church vans would never, ever be the same. Years later, Monica's hardly floating on '90s nostalgia; her last album, "Still Standing," debuted this March at No. 2 on the Billboard charts, thanks in part to her leading role in a hugely successful BET reality show of the same name. The promoters/producers of I Live the Good Life, who throw regular "Ladies' Night" parties, are billing this as "The Ultimate Ladies Night." It's pretty hard to disagree. Monica performs alongside new soul pianist K. Williams, local soul woman Jeron Marshall, the trumpet driven soul jazz of Rodney Block and a comedy set by Keith "Keef" Glason.
Without question, Monica is going to take hundreds of folks in Robinson back to those icky, dazed days of 'tweenhood. But me? I skanked into my teen-age years with a checkered bowling shirt on my back and "Why Do They Rock So Hard?" by Reel Big Fish in my Discman. I thank my lucky stars that my ska phase began and ended with that one release, but, man, it was a helluva album. All screeching horns and white-boy harmonies behind bubblegum punk guitar riffs and lyrics about your girlfriend being a vegetarian — the type of real heady, grown up stuff I was heading into, y'know? And the guys were witty, to boot. I mean, Reel Big Fish has an entire song about how big of a dork their trumpet player, Scott, is. It's called "Scott's a Dork." Long story short, if you're into ska, you know these guys, you know they're one of the biggest genre acts to come out of the '90s and you know the elder statesmen of third-generation ska put on notoriously wild live shows. I'm there, and I'm bringing my goofy inner 13-year-old with me. I owe that little fat kid a night on the town. Reel Big Fish plays, apparently, by themselves. Sweet.
This should be a rare treat. It's not so often that Little Rock gets a full-blown soul-jazz band. That alone warrants a bit of consideration for this show. If the Revelations sound as tight live as they do on the record, which was arranged beautifully by Eddie Kendrick's cohort, Patrick Adams, this show could well be a gig for the books. Williams and the Revelations fill a much-needed vacancy in today's neo-soul field; that is, they operate a super masculine, Kenny Lattimore-type of sound, complete with those time-tested, play-by-play "good guy in a moral and/or sexual quandary struggling to reconcile his own primal desires with his moral standards" lyrics, a la R. Kelly or a libidinal, urban Tolkien. Expect the ladies to be out for Nas collaborator 'Tre Williams and his "testosterone engorged baritone" (soultracks.com's words, not mine). The concert's open to ages 18 and older.
This is the kind of story that could only be found in country music: raised in Rogers, Arkansas, the musician son of a small-town country bassist has his father's passion for music, but works as a mechanic by day and a radio DJ at night. He finally scores a contract with Warner Bros. that ends up fruitless and has to take more dead-end jobs until finally, after six resilient years — and more than a few questionable haircuts — a song finally clicks with listeners the country over and our hero spends the next few years as one of the biggest country stars around. That's how Joe Nichols provided the most inspiring country music tale since George Strait shaved his stubble and cut his ponytail in "Pure Country." (Which, by the way, is heading to Broadway, and for a time had Nichols slated for the leading role.) Regardless, the hero of our story is riding high on the country charts with the release of his last album, "Old Things New," which provided him with his third number-one single in "Gimme That Girl," a sugary little ditty tailor-made for country consumption.
Reading up on this Little Rock-based, 20-year-old metal act, I found the word "legendary" popping up where "great" or "influential" would normally be for any other band that didn't spearhead an entire genre for the better part of an entire decade. That genre, Christian metal, makes for an interesting Venn diagram, but its fans are fervent and Living Sacrifice's role in that particular scene runs deep; these guys are practically canonized, inspiring practically every band that came in its wake. And now, the local-boys-gone-hero-mode are back on the road to support "The Infinite Order," a no-frills death metal album that stands as the band's seventh release and first since they reunited after a 2002 split. Metal heads: rejoice. Three of Living Sacrifice's offspring, The Showdown, Becoming Saints and In the Fade, open the night.
Far and away, Lightning Bolt has put on one of the single greatest shows I've ever seen. Ever. Ask anyone who's seen the deafening free-jazz duo recently; they'll probably tell you the exact same thing right after they tell you to speak up a bit louder. Seeing these guys live is a pummeling, freakish exercise in balancing pain — real, physical, auditory pain — with a wide-eyed appreciation for their virtuosity at playing hard, fast and loud. It's an assault of noise with one foot in Sonic Youth's most terroristic, early moments of aural provocation and another in the skronkiest parts of Ornette Coleman's free jazz, all done with an avant-garde intellect from the school of Krzysztof Penderecki. Did I mention how loud it is? It's so loud that the two members wear ear safety headsets made for marksmen and airport runway workers. The bassist runs his guitar (strapped with two bass strings and two banjo strings) through as many amps as he can get his hands on, turned as loud as he can, while the drummer yelps through a telephone pickup embedded in a knit mask strapped to his head. (This drummer, by the way, is the most incredible percussionist I've ever seen. Bar none.) But through all the pontification, they're still a ridiculous, abrasive, chaotic mess of a band, albeit one with a ridiculous, abrasive chaotic mess that's sent them around the world many, many times over to play for thousands at a time. So when you can see an act of this caliber at a place like the ACAC, you're practically required to go; $12 isn't a bad price for an epiphany. Transmography, Austin's left-field dance musicians; Cracker Creeptacular, sludgy indie-poppers, and local power-duo Androids of Ex-Lovers open.
On one hand, it would be easy to dismiss Delta Spirit, saying they sound like "everyone else" from that rambling, rusty pack of gentrifying buzzbands like Dr. Dog or The Morning Benders who have their hearts in the suburbs and their heads in their idea of a juke-joint. But those are all good bands in a cool, evocative genre, succeeding at making fun music successfully engineered to work up a goosebump and a shimmy or two and Delta Spirit's no different. Fresh from debuting "History From Below," the third in a series of gruff, ambitious releases, the San Diegans take that sound here to Little Rock. If ever there was a town that loved this brand of tonal sunshine, this is it. It'll be safe to expect a packed house. The Romany Rye, featured on page 19, and David Vandervelde, a reverb-doused songwriter out of Nashville, open.