10 p.m., Juanita's. $6.
Take that, family gatherings. Just when the bonding was about to culminate around a “Christmas Story” marathon, Max Recordings, ever reliable, swoops in with a golden excuse. How can your mom argue with an all-star local band that only plays once or twice a year? And includes a member of Green Day, to boot? Yep, like they have every holiday season since I can remember, the Big Cats come together and the audience sings — or at least dances — along. It's a tradition with roots stretching back to Little Rock's vibrant early-'90s punk scene. All four Big Cats — Burt Taggart, Jason White, Colin Brooks, Joshua Bentley — were at the vanguard of that scene. They've mellowed with age, trading power chords and hollering for hook-heavy guitar rock. When time allows (Brooks lives in New York, where he performs with Dan Zanes and Friends; White lives in Cali, when he's not touring with Green Day), the band's been recording in Little Rock with Will Boyd and Zach Reeves. Spies report that it's sounding great. Another long tenured act that plays infrequently opens the show. In the late '90s, few local acts counted a following like Ashtray Babyhead. Fronted by Kyoto Boom's Scott Cook, the band specializes in cheeky power-pop in the same sonic neighborhood of Weezer. The local roots powerhouse Kevin Kerby and Battery, who'll release a new album early next year on Max, also perform.
Noon, Pyramid Art, 500 President Clinton Ave. Free.
The seven-day African celebration of Kwanzaa, based on Nguzo Saba (seven guiding principles), begins Dec. 26, and Pyramid Books/Hearne Fine Art is featuring guest speakers and artists daily until New Year's Day, when the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center takes over. For Umoja (unity, on Friday), Patrick Oliver, the host of KABF's Literary Nation, will speak and the theatrical group Kinfolks will perform. For Kujichagulia (self-determination, Dec. 27), “Project Runway” standout Korto Momolu and flutist Auna Hearne are the guests. For Ujima (collective work and responsibility, Dec. 28), Theressa Hoover United Methodist Church Pastor C.J. Duvall, African dancer Clarice Kinchen and percussionist Rico Zaragosa will be featured. On Ujamaa (cooperative economics, Dec. 29), Carmen Parks of the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce speaks and saxophonist Gerald Johnson performs. For Nia (purpose, Dec. 30), UALR law professor Adjoa Aiyetoro and spoken word poets A.P.O.L.L.O., Osyrus, Like Nature, Stacey McAdoo, Ron McAdoo, Skillz and Jessica Graham will be guests. On Kuumba (creativity, Dec. 31), UALR art professor Aj Smith will speak and Joshua will sing. Imani (faith) will be celebrated starting at 2 p.m. New Year's Day at the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center with guest speaker Constance Sarto, museum director, and Mabelvale Elementary's African Drum and Groove Ensemble.
3 p.m. and 8 p.m., Alltel Arena. $32.75-$62.75.
Central Arkansas has mad love for symphonic rock come Christmastime. Manheim Steamroller, the cheeseball, synth-loving pioneers of the movement, packed in as many folks as I've ever seen at Robinson a couple weeks back. If history is any indication, even on the day after Christmas, both Trans-Siberian Orchestra shows will be filled to the brim, too. I guess it shouldn't come as a surprise. If you're white and grew up in Arkansas, chances are you think of classic rock as the cheese dip of popular music — delicious alone or as a topping. So come-on-feel-the-noise riffs slathered on top of holiday songs everyone knows are irresistible. And did I mention the pyrotechnics? An elaborate fireworks, laser and light show's led just about every reviewer of TSO to make some Pink Floyd reference. It's your last chance for a spectacle in 2008.
AMERICAN PRINCES/ SMOKE UP JOHNNY/ ECLIPSE GLASSES
9 p.m., Revolution.
Since guitarist and vocalist Collins Kilgore moved to New York awhile back, the Princes, like the Big Cats or Ashtray Babyhead, have mostly scheduled their Little Rock shows around holidays. But, because the band's still really active — they tour nationally and work the press circuit; word at deadline was that their latest album, “Other People,” was set to be named Magnet magazine's album of the year — they come around even on the lesser holidays. But Christmastime is always special. The dudes usually share the bill with friends in buzzy local bands — in this case, irrepressible bar rockers Smoke Up Johnny and groove-laden Eclipse Glasses — and everyone seems to come out of the woodwork. It'll be more emotional than usual. The band will perform without longtime bassist Luke Hunsicker, who recently underwent surgery to remove a brain tumor. The prognosis won't be known until pathology reports come back, but word in the Princes camp is that doctors are cautiously optimistic. Like many working musicians, Hunsicker lacks health insurance. Obviously, his medical bills are going to be exorbitant. The band's set up a link for anyone who wants to donate on americanprinces.com. While this gig will be a showcase for the band and their friends, an encore, on Monday, at White Water, offers fans a long night of nothing but the Princes.
9 p.m., White Water Tavern. $20.
It's becoming an annual tradition. Every year around this time, Lucero, steadily becoming more and more famous, plays an intimate gig at White Water. Earlier this fall, the band signed a four-album deal with Universal/Republic. When the band returns to New York, early next year, it'll be for two nights at the near 3,000-capacity Terminal 5. It's safe to say that, in the nearly 200 shows the grizzled rockers average a year, they'll never play anything else approaching this small of a venue in 2009. Expect Little Rock native and lead singer Ben Nichols to go all out. He'll have scores of friends and likely family in the audience. And he'll be armed with new material, too. The band's currently working on a follow-up to 2006's “Rebels, Rogues & Sworn Brothers.” For fans, or even those simply casually interested, this is a can't-miss show, and amazingly, at least at press time, there were still tickets.
9 p.m., Sticky Fingerz.
Luther Dickinson, of the North Mississippi Allstars and the Black Crowes, once said that Jimbo Mathus is a link in “the ‘crazy Mississippi white-boy' chain of music that goes all the way back through Elvis Presley to Jimmie Rogers … white musicians playing black music and influencing people in both cultures.” That kind of framing of Mathus' sound might come as a surprise to those who remember him as the animated front man of the swing revival act the Squirrel Nut Zippers. That '90s favorite has lately reunited for a spate of gigs here and there, but since the early 2000s, Mathus has spent most of his time exploring blues and roots music. He's toured with Pine Bluff's CeDell Davis, served as musical director for Buddy Guy and released a host of records, moving easily between swamp rock, country and the acoustic blues. His latest, “Jimmy the Kid,” seems to stretch across all those genres. Look for Arkansas native Matt Pierce on guitar in Mathus' backing band, the Tri-State Coalition. Conway's Jim Mize, who should never be missed, leads his band, the Germans, in the opening slot.
ARKANSAS V. NORTH TEXAS
2:05 p.m., Alltel Arena. $25.
The youth movement heads south. In the annual North Little Rock game, Central Arkansans get a chance to eye John Pelphrey's Hogs in what'll likely be a recharge after a loss to Oklahoma before a tough game against Texas (our press deadline fell before Christmas). Even the most obsessive Razorback fan knows that this is a rebuilding year. That's probably the healthiest position for the perennially expectant, perennially disappointed Hog fan: If we lose, it's because we're supposed to. If we win, it's like a gift. It's hard to tell, after our soft non-conference schedule, how we'll handle ourselves once we're battling bigger schools, but damn if my eyes haven't gotten big when Courtney Fortson comes slashing through the lane, dreds flying, when Rotnei Clarke squares up beyond the arc (and, by the way, how satisfying is it to say “Rotnei” with enthusiasm?), when Michael Washington bodies his way to the block. All that should be on full display against North Texas, a Sun Belt team that should give us a go, but, hopefully, not much of one.