By John Tarpley
• ADAM HAMBRICK
9:30 p.m., Juanita's. $7.
Adam Hambrick's no stranger to Central Arkansas, taking his melodic, driving brand of sincere, radio-ready pop from venue to venue for years. Now he's ready to release his newest, "Fighting from the Ground," an album born out of, as he says, a frustration that eventually led to a reinvention of his sound. And the sound? It's anything but frustrated. The 10 tracks are airy, optimistic pieces of Southern-tinged, blue-eyed acoustic soul. And "God Save Johnny Ballgame" could just be the season's best song title. He's supported by fellow acoustic rockers Benjamin's Army and Ten Cent Hat.
• TED LEO AND PHARMACISTS
7 p.m., Vino's. $13 adv., $15 d.o.s.
Ted Leo is just one of those guys who was born with the touch. The man has hooks in his genetic makeup, effortlessly managing to write songs that, at worst, are still better than most everything else floating around and, at best, perfect, three-minute bursts of ecstatic, amplified rock. The Specials-referencing, falsetto-hooked "Where Have All the Rude Boys Gone?" is a micro-course in how to write a seamless rock song; "Me and Mia" is one of the most thrilling youth anthems released in the digital age (even if "me and Mia, Ann and Ana" is about — yikes — bulimia and anorexia) and "Parallel or Together?" can be either a call to arms for young axe-slingers to get to work or a disillusioning wake-up call, saying, "Hey, you'll probably never write anything nearly as great as this, bucko." (All of these songs are available on YouTube, by the way.) Simply, he's American indie-rock's Elvis Costello, a reedy charmer of a punk in button-ups with a knack for hookcraft unlike anyone since, well, maybe since Mr. MacManus himself. Leo and Pharmacists are set to be supported by The Moving Front, whose new album, "Everyday Dissonance," has been the talk of the town since its release two weeks ago. And on a bittersweet note, the night marks the final live outing for The Reds, the essential Little Rock power-pop trio that's bowing out after more than five years on the local circuit.
• ARKANSAS BLUES AND HERITAGE FESTIVAL
11:30 a.m., Downtown Helena-West Helena. $25 weekend pass.
That staple of blues heritage, the King Biscuit Blues Fest, now known as the "Arkansas Blues and Heritage Festival," is celebrating its 25th year this weekend. And the world-famous, three-day celebration of everything blues is set to offer its biggest year yet. Working with a half-million dollar budget — the largest by far in its history — the festival is guaranteed to pack Helena-West Helena to unprecedented levels. But for good reason. This year's lineup is one for the history books. On the main stage, Thursday night offers up B.B. King, the American icon and one of the last living blues greats; Friday is headlined by Dr. John, the authoritative torch holder of the gravelly New Orleans sound, and Saturday brings Taj Mahal, the towering figure of the genre, by and large responsible for the revival of acoustic blues. Elsewhere, you're bound to run into Bobby Rush, the Pine Bluff-raised dirty bluesman and showman extraordinaire; Pinetop Perkins, whose piano blues warranted him a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and the legendary Charlie Musselwhite. For more information on the 50 other acts featured on four stages over three days, visit bluesandheritagefest.com.
• RED OCTOPUS PRESENTS: 'NIGHT OF THE LIVING PAGANS'
8 p.m., The Public Theatre. $10.
Little Rock's oldest and most celebrated comedy troupe is back, ready to wrap its tentacles around October to spoof the Halloween season thanks to the power in "a centuries-old amulet [they] found in a dumpster behind the theater." Sure, picky zombies, flapper vampires, angsty werewolves and socially awkward circus freaks are in their sights, but the most horrific of them all, Tea Partiers, are set to be lampooned on the chopping block with "Tea Party Hell House," a warning tale about America's fate if they don't rein in the government right away. The show runs on Saturday, Oct. 9, and returns next Thursday, Friday and Saturday at The Public Theatre on Center Street. Call 626-0153 for tickets.
7:30 p.m., The Weekend Theater. $14-$18
Although it debuted in 1975, was revived on Broadway in 1996 and was adapted for the big screen in what would become the Oscar-winning Best Picture of 2002, "Chicago" never really went away. The sexy Kander and Ebb musical satirizes Prohibition Era crime, politics and media in the metropolis' legendarily corrupt "Big Bill" Thompson city hall. If you've managed to somehow stay a stranger to the play, it may be time to acquaint yourself with the boozy showgirls and amorous lawyers tripping the light fantastic. The musical runs every weekend through Oct. 24 with Sunday matinees at 2:30 p.m.
• TRUE SOUL REVUE
10 p.m., White Water Tavern.
If you're not into unbelievable music, feel free to disregard this one. For everyone else, it's one for the "Must-Do List." After almost 40 years of silence, the men behind Little Rock's celebrated True Soul Records sound are back, playing the rare show here and there, and Friday playing a practically unheard of club gig. Simply put, precious few bands deliver soul and deep funk half as well as this horn and bass-driven seven-piece. There's a reason why the Times and our friends at Oxford American won't shut up about them. Lace up your boogie shoes, brush the dust off your butt, do your mojo a favor and go.
6 p.m., Verizon Arena. $55.95-$80.35
All right, let's not mince words here. These guys are probably the most hated band in the world right now. Nickelback is an icon of everything wrong about music, one of the most god-awful peddlers of unwaveringly terrible music ever — maybe the worst rock band of all time. The group's still tacking their brand of cookie-cutter post-grunge all over the airwaves and resting its laurels on a pile of money that only gets bigger and bigger with each album the band pops out like a zit. But Nickelback doesn't care about being universally panned: It's one of the biggest bands in the world, fuelled by hate, groans and bad write-ups like this. And it's only going to get bigger. Expect the post-grungers to pack Verizon Arena and continue hogging chart spots that, in a just world, would be reserved for remarkable, gifted modern rock bands, like, say, Little Rock's own Underclaire. Nickleback's joined by fellow rockers Three Days Grace and Buckcherry.
• THE SWORD
8 p.m., Juanita's. $10.
Metal is alive and well, especially the throwback brand, rife with vintage '80s shredding and songs about time travel and Vikings. But few outfits are doing it with the steely-eyed panache of fantasy metal torch holders The Sword of Austin, Texas. Now, after years of recording at a heavy, steady pace, touring the world, the band is finally steering towards consistent success thanks to a song in "Guitar Hero 2" and a glowing plug from Rolling Stone. If your iPod isn't equipped for wrecking shit on a time-traveling dragon in a deep-space, look no further. The wild men of San Antokyo open alongside Little Rock's go-to throwback metal act, Iron Tongue.
• CARRIE UNDERWOOD
7 p.m., Verizon Arena. $35.50-$55.50
No one epitomizes the goodness to be found in "American Idol" quite like the small-town girl from Checotah, Okla. — just a bike ride away from Fort Smith — who drove to "Idol" auditions in St. Louis on a whim, became a hometown hero after making the cut, and authoritatively won the season, becoming, arguably, the biggest female country star around today. You don't have to look any further than her multi-platinum albums, Grammys and Grand Ole Opry member card for proof. Now the megastar is stopping off in Little Rock for her "Play On Tour." She's supported by country rocker Billy Currington and the bluegrass-tinged brothers of Sons of Sylvia.
• TALES OF THE CRYPT
5:30 p.m., Mount Holly Cemetery. Donations encouraged.
For its 16th year, the Mount Holly Cemetery turns into an interactive theater experience with "Tales of the Crypt," the annual historical tour featuring 20 students from Parkview Arts-Science Magnet School recreating the lives of a number of important Arkansans buried there, including turn-of-the-century Gov. Jeff Davis, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet John Gould Fletcher and infamous diamond miner and entrepreneur Samuel Reyburn. The candlelit tours begin every five minutes until 8:30 p.m.