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When good bands combine

Dragoon, a Memphis act that includes members of the Grifters and Trusty, returns to Vino’s on Saturday.

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LR HYBRIDS: Dragoon's Bobby Matthews.
  • LR HYBRIDS: Dragoon's Bobby Matthews.

In the early '90s, Trusty ignited Little Rock's punk scene. It drew legions of local followers, who themselves formed bands and record labels and fanzines, the reverberations of which still register in local music today. Trusty went on to tour the country (and later Europe) and sign to Dischord Records, the nationally revered indie-punk label, where it released two albums.

The band has been broken up for more than a decade, but interest remains, particularly following last year's release of “Towncraft,” a documentary that chronicled the rise of Little Rock's punk scene. “Dead band walking,” co-founder Bobby Matthews quips.

So far that's meant three reunion shows, most recently last year at the Towncraft release. Two years ago, Max Recordings released “Sugar Smack,” a compilation that paired two new songs with seven songs culled from 1989 to 1991. And earlier this year, someone from Missouri who runs a label called DC United released the band's 20-year-old demo tape on CD, billing it “A special 20-year anniversary release from one of America's great punk bands.” He'd seen the band at the Antenna Club in Memphis in 1989, bought their tape and has held on to it ever since.

As Trusty is to Little Rock, the Grifters are to Memphis. Formed in the late '80s, the band made beautiful indie-pysch, combining tape splices, jagged guitar riffs and strange, serpentine melodies that get stuck in the deep, dark corners of your brain. They released five albums, two of which indie heavyweight Sub Pop released. In the mid-'90s, the lo-fi scene that embraced bands like Guided by Voices took a shine to the Grifters well beyond Memphis, but like Trusty, the group broke up in 1997, though much less amicably than their Little Rock counterpart.

After Trusty split, Matthews moved to Memphis and bounced around in bands like Angel Pig and Shabby Blacksmith. He tried his hand at solo acoustic (it didn't take), and he got certified to teach art to elementary school students. Several years back, he formed Paper Plates with Tripp Lampkins, formerly of the Grifters, and put out an album of what Matthews calls unadulterated pop.

When that band split, Lampkins brought in his best friend and Grifters band-mate, Stan Gallimore, and Dragoon was born. For three years, “the pysch-tinged power trio,” as Matthews says, has played regularly in Memphis. Dragoon comes to Little Rock on Saturday, performing at 8:30 p.m. at Vino's; cover is $6.

The group is currently putting together a debut album, which Matthews expects to be out around the first of the year on the Lamar Label.

The songs streaming on the band's MySpace page, all of which Matthews says will feature on the debut album, sound like they could be late-era Alex Chilton experiments. Matthews' sweet, but off-kilter, vocals battle against bass and guitar dissonance and weird time signatures. It's strangely affecting stuff. Wild enough for the punks. Heavy enough for the metal kids. Hook-y enough for the indie-poppers.

Several years back, Matthews brought some friends to town for a Paper Plates show. Like all trips home, it was a mini-reunion. After the show, he says his friends observed, “The man-hug is really popular in Little Rock.”

Saturday's bill also features local post-punk deconstructionists Loch Ness Monster and punk-pop act the Evelyns. On Dec. 22, Trusty will reunite for a DMZ reunion at Vino's with Ebo and the Tomcats and more.

Expect many man-hugs.

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