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BIG DOWNTON THURSDAY
5:30 p.m., River Market Pavilion. $5.
Since some 20,000 folks from Memphis and Texas and Miami and points in between are expected to start streaming into Little Rock and North Little Rock on Thursday evening, the organizers of Big Downtown Thursdays, a weekly concert series usually held in May, decided to start the party a little early this year. From 5:30 to 8:30 p.m., Memphis Soul Revue, a popular party band (read: cover band), performs. As its name suggests, MSR does R&B and soul hits, though not especially, as their name suggests, Memphis R&B and soul. You might hear a little Otis or Al Green, but expect things to tilt more to the Chic, Gap Band era.
9 p.m., Juanita's. $7.
How do you know you've made it — or at least are on your way — in today's increasingly fractured music industry? You score a plumb spot on a video game soundtrack. Better yet, if you're a band that likes guitars, you end up on “Guitar Hero.” Fans of that title's third installment will be poking primary colored buttons in their minds on Thursday when the Lions from Austin, Texas, launch into “Metal Heavy Lady,” the band's paean to the brighter days of metal, when hooks actually mattered, hints of psychedelia snuck in here and there and you could actually make out a lyric or three. Which is not to say the Lions don't come heavy. Their riffs are often described as Texas-sized. While I'm stridently opposed to using “Texas-sized” to describe anything, the spirit of the cliche is on point. Bring earplugs. Popular Conway-based singer/songwriter Mat Mahar opens with Gone Was Here. The show is open to ages 18 and older.
9 p.m., White Water Tavern. $5.
Fresh off a big SXSW shindig in Austin, Lucero's Ben Nichols takes a solo sojourn in his hometown. What's that mean? A little home cooking, seeing some old friends and quality hours at White Water Tavern, where despite touring prolifically, Nichols still manages to be almost a regular. Most of the time he just hangs out, but often he can be goaded into taking the stage. Friday, he plays a scheduled gig — grizzled voice, a guitar and maybe a little help from Memphis' John Paul Keith and the One Four Fives, a foot-tapping honky-tonk outfit. As hardcore Lucero fans know, a Nichols solo show is a chance not only to hear clearly the singer/songwriter's rough hewn, literate lyrics — usually cloaked in the punk-country churn of the band — but also a rare opportunity to catch some of the deeper cuts in Lucero's catalog. And maybe, just maybe, a Red 40 cut?
ROCK 'N' ROAR
7 p.m., Civitan Amphitheater, Little Rock Zoo. $8.
Spring! The birds are chirping, the grass is greening and it's finally nice enough for concerts to be played outside. Rock 'n' Roar, the best Zoo-tied outdoor concert series around, returns after a successful start last year with a concert by Max Recordings' resident super group, the Big Cats, and local indie-pop heroes Grand Serenade. The bands play in the zoo's Civitan Amphitheater, a spacious and cool looking space, normally used for what? Lions jumping through hoops? Lectures? Concerts given by animatronic animals? Who knows? But it's a fantastic place to see live music when the weather's nice. For the uninitiated, the Big Cats is a fantastic pop-rock band made up of Little Rock natives who played together in bands in high school and then went on to be in bands like Green Day and the Stills and form record labels. They only play a few times a year, usually near holidays, so don't blow it. Originally from Heber Springs, Grand Serenade has built up a sizable local following with a strong sense of melody and lasting hooks. Plus, Mendoza's Taco Truck will be on hand with authentic Mexican food for sale.
8 p.m., Robinson Center Music Hall. $39.50.
Mike Epps has a flourishing film career. Since his role as “Day-Day” in Ice Cube's “Next Friday,” he's been in more than a dozen movies you've probably never seen, like “Resident Evil: Apocalypse,” “Guess Who” and “The Honeymooners.” Most recently, he appeared in the Martin Lawrence vehicle “Welcome Home, Roscoe Jenkins.” Even with those projects under his belt, Epps probably remains most popular for his stand-up comedy (though if he acts convincingly as Richard Pryor in an upcoming biopic, that might change). A longtime veteran and host of “Def Comedy Jam,” Epps specializes in a goofy, often ribald brand of comedy that's likely to pack out Robinson.
COMMUNITY EASTER SUNRISE SERVICE
7 a.m., Riverfest Amphitheatre. Free.
A Little Rock tradition for the last 18 years, the Community Easter Sunrise Service brings together a broad, interdenominational range of ministers, community leaders and musicians for an early-morning Easter service on the river. This year, the Rev. Vic Nixon of Pulaski Heights Methodist Church delivers the sermon. It's entitled “Letting Go of Our Preconceptions.” Federal Judge Bill Wilson, Shelly Ehenger of the Little Rock Housing Authority, Janet Nelson with the Interfaith Hospitality Network, Clayton Gentry of Episcopal Collegiate School and Father Salvador Marquez-Munoz of St. Edwards Catholic Church also will participate in the service. Karen Clark, Lawrence Hamilton and Stephen Ray will provide music. If there's rain, the event will be held underneath the River Market Pavilion.
EPIPHANY AND ONE NIGHT STAND
6:30 p.m., AETN, Conway. Free.
A couple times a year, AETN tapes “Front Row,” a live performance by a local act in front of a studio audience. It's like a smaller, more provincial “Austin City Limits.” So far the programming has been excellent. Folky singer/songwriter Sara Thomas, jazz trumpet player Rodney Block and pop-rockers the Boondogs have all participated. Now, just as “Austin City Limits” has expanded its genre reach, “Front Row” branches out, too, with Epiphany and One Night Stand, a live hip-hop act familiar to anyone who followed the Arkansas Times Musicians Showcase. Led by the immensely charismatic rapper Epiphany, One Night Stand includes local diva Gina Gee (the best R&B vocalist in town) and a crack four-piece band. Their music swings, particularly “5 Dollas,” a buoyant and highly memorable song that should be all over the radio. Seating for the taping is limited. Those interested in attending are asked to RSVP at aetn.org or 800-662-2386. The show will air on April 16.
10 p.m., White Water Tavern. Free.
Fear not, Hector Faceplant faithful. Recent activity from the Reds (Jason Thompson) and Loch Ness Monster (Sulac) does not, as we'd feared, signal the end of HF. Much to the contrary: Little Rock's favorite obscurantists are back performing to celebrate their latest release, “Songs You'll Never Hear,” a strange and mesmerizing album that marries jangly, sunny pop and X-style male-female harmonies. With, of course, the lyrical weirdness that's made Sulac an underground institution 'round these parts, and for the messageboard faithful, a wink from Liz Carroll with “Mikey & Fluke.” Longtime local indie-folk singer Stacy Mackey opens with Winston Family Orchestra, a new project from God ka Bob, Hector Faceplant's new record label.
9 p.m., Revolution. $5-$10.
A Detroit institution, the Dirtbombs firmly rest in the anti-minimalism camp. In sweaty, kick-out-the-jams garage rock, less is definitely not more. More is more. Which for the Dirtbombs means two bassists (one playing the “fuzzy” bass), two drummers and one guitarist (if only they would've held firm on the rule of two). So, yes, they come on hard, but the band's main weapon comes not from instrumental force, but from Mick Collins, the swaggering, soulful front man. On the Dirtbombs' new album, “We Have You Surrounded,” Collins and Co. cover Sparks, include a song written by comics writer Alan Moore, and get way more political. Still very much in the mix: garage punk that bleeds R&B. Sub Pop's Kelly Stoltz, an multi-instrumentalist who infectiously blends psych rock, folk, blues, and pop, opens the show.
8 p.m., Robinson Center Music Hall. $30-$100.
Few, if any, in the world of classical music enjoy the kind of fame that Joshua Bell does. Aside from the obvious — he's an astoundingly good violinist — Bell's fame rests on two of America's strongest cultural obsessions: youth and beauty. A Bloomington, Ind., native, Bell made his debut with that city's symphony orchestra at age 7. At 15, he was the youngest soloist to appear with the Philadelphia Orchestra. By 2000, fame firmly entrenched thanks to numerous TV appearances, film scoring and collaboration with genres outside of classical, he was named one of People's “50 most beautiful people.” On Wednesday, he joins former classmate David Itkin and the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra for one performance. This is, without a doubt, the classical event of the year.