By Lindsey Millar and John Tarpley
9:30 p.m., Sticky Fingerz. $5.
It's something of a relief that, amidst the mostly scuzzed-out crop of young guitar rock bands, sloppily endearing garage rock still makes the kids dance. That's the promise of Harlem, an Austin three-piece signed to the venerable indie label Matador that comes to Little Rock for the first time ever on Thursday. The trio's formula includes guitars that shred but mostly jangle, a stripped-down beat that's hard not to bop along to, hooks a-plenty and lyrics that're occasionally deranged (but always framed in a warm shimmy). Harlem's latest album, "Hippies," opens like this: "Someday soon you'll be on fire/Ask me for a glass of water/I'll say noooooo/Let that shit burn/And you'll say/Please please please put me out/I promise not to do again/Whatever I did to you ..." Look for the crowd to be singing along, loudly, with big smiles. LM
• AFIARA STRING QUARTET
7:30 p.m., St. Mark's Episcopal Church. $10-$25.
The Arkansas Chamber Society opens its 2010-2011 season with a decorated, young Canadian quartet. Formed in 2006, Afiara (a derivation of the Spanish fiar, which means "to trust," signifying "a basic element vital to the depth and joy of its music-making," according to the quartet's bio) has put together an impressive resume in short order. In 2008, it won the Concert Artists Guild International Competition in New York. A year later, it became the Juilliard School's Graduate Resident String Quartet. And earlier this year, Afiara was the first ensemble to receive the Young Canadian Musicians Award. The quartet's Little Rock program includes Aleksandra Vrebalov's Pannonia Boundless, Mendelssohn's String Quartet No. 4 in E minor, Op. 44, No. 2, and Beethoven's String Quartet in F Major. LM
• MURDER BY DEATH / SAMANTHA CRAIN
8 p.m., Downtown Music. $14.
While "Murder by Death" may look uniform on an "upcoming bands" schedule for the local metal venue, the actual Murder by Death sound is a far cry from the shrieking and shredding that usually fills the downtown space. Instead, the orchestral five-piece is a provocative blend of Nick Cave's gothic south and Wolf Parade's dynamic indie rock muddled with a dash of Drive-In Truckers' taste for epic narratives. But what sets the band apart from its noir-fuelled peers is a reluctance to sound like a caricatured pastiche of the South. There's a healthy bit of tense, Cormac McCarthy-esque brooding flowing through the sound, desperate but controlled. Yup, constraint is the key that makes Murder by Death good music for bad moods. The band is joined by long-time Times favorite, Samantha Crain. For years, the pint-sized Oklahoman has churned out dusty, rollicking tunes with magical realism in one pocket and a copy of "Tobacco Road" in the other. Ninja Gun, a harmonic, heavy-roots trio from Georgia, open the night. JT
• ROOT CAFE'S DINNER AND A MOVIE
6:30 p.m., Christ Episcopal Church. $15.
The Root Cafe, the long-in-development local and organic foods restaurant, still doesn't have a permanent space, but that hasn't stopped its creators from regularly hosting canning classes, dinners and parties. On Friday, Root offers a sit-down dinner paired with two short films by local filmmakers. In other cities that latter element might serve as code for "avoid at all cost," but Little Rock is home to two big-time filmmakers who're passionate about shorts: Graham Gordy and Ray McKinnon. Gordy, a bi-weekly Times columnist, wrote "War Eagle, Arkansas" and co-wrote "The Love Guru," has another feature film in pre-production, is writing the pilot for a series for AMC and collaborating with McKinnon on a script for a TV comedy set in Arkansas. His directorial debut, "Home Field Advantage," screens Friday. Co-written by Clay and Nick Rogers, the film centers on a drunken interruption of a wedding. McKinnon, known for his supporting roles in "Deadwood" and "The Blind Side" and his direction in "Chrystal" and "Randy and the Mob," won an Academy Award in 2001 for "The Accountant," a hilarious polemic against the enemies — both real and imagined — of the South and the small Southern farmer. It also shows on Friday. Gordy, McKinnon and Nick Rogers will all be on hand for a Q&A following the film. The menu, comprised of ingredients from local farms, includes smoked turkey mole chili, vegetarian white bean chili, an organic field green salad, homemade biscuits and cornbread and blackstrap gingerbread with whipped cream. RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org. LM
8 p.m., Low Key Arts, Hot Springs. $5.
Rock music owes a debt to Japan. No, not for that creepy, J-Pop baloney: for the pun-y band names cobbled together from the country: Japancakes, Japandroids — even Little Rock's own San Antokyo took a trip on the pun-wagon. (I'm still waiting for a Foucault-themed band called, you got it, Japanopticon.) But Japanther, despite the name, is a band begotten of American influences all around: late-'70s no-wave from New York, mid-'80s punk from Washington late-'90s dance-punk and '00s Baltimore rap all knotted up together in the two-piece drum and bass outfit's sound. Since revving up its caffeinated, good-times sound in 2001 at The Pratt Institute, the fiercely experimental duo has collaborated with video artists for installations in the Whitney Museum, puppeteers for a marionette reworking of the anti-establishment cult film "Wild in the Streets" and even a synchronized swimming team. This show, incredibly, marks the infamous touring act's first trip to Arkansas. The duo plays with Cold Mold, Hot Springs' abrasive, co-ed skronk-rock twosome. Jason Harrington, AKA Mad Trucker, moonlights as his glitched-out, dubstepping alter-ego DJ Truckula, while local designer/muralist Ch3mex does live art. JT
• HOT SPRINGS JAZZ FEST
11 a.m., Broadway and Market streets, Hot Springs. Free.
Ongoing since Tuesday, the 19th annual Hot Springs Jazz Fest hits its highpoint on Saturday, with a daylong slate of jazz in all its broad glory on Broadway Street underneath the Sky-Bridge. That means the likes of the Hot Springs Scholarship Jazz Ensemble (11 a.m.); the six-member Happy Tymes Dixieland Band (11:30 a.m.); the 18-piece Arkansas Jazz Orchestra, which isn't afraid to mix Duke Ellington with contemporary arrangements from the "Tonight Show" band (12:15 p.m.); the University of Arkansas at Monticello band (2 p.m.); Inside Out, a five-piece that merges contemporary arrangements with standards (3:30 p.m.); and the big band S'Wonderful, which specializes in songs made famous by female-fronted big band vocalists like Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughn (4:30 p.m.). But most of all, don't miss Astral Project, New Orleans' greatest contemporary jazz act. Live, the quartet swings like few others. The venerable jazz mag OffBeat wasn't reaching when it called Astral Project "one of the most unique jazz groups period." LM
• THE SMALL PONDS
7 p.m., White Water Tavern. $5.
Steadily, Travis Hill is turning his Little Rock label Last Chance Records into a national player. He's released material from Memphis' rock 'n' roll throwbacks John Paul Keith and the One Four Fives, Southern rock hero Joey Kneiser (of Glossary) and rising North Carolina alt-country act American Aquarium. And now, thanks undoubtedly to his relationship with American Aquarium, Hill's releasing the debut album from The Small Ponds, a new Raleigh, N.C.-based trio that includes folk-rock chanteuse Caitlin Cary (Whiskeytown, Tres Chicas), Matt Douglas (The Proclivities) and Skillet Gilmore (Whiskeytown). An early intimate show at White Water should be a good venue for the group's moody, slow-build relationship songs. Cary and Douglas have pure voices that sound great together. Slobberbone front man Brent Best, who's damn near a regular at White Water, opens the show with a solo set. LM