• “THE 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE”
7:30 p.m., The Weekend Theater. $14-$18.
Spelling bees are rife with drama. Remember “Spellbound?” “Akeelah and the Bee?” I know you remember when Rebecca Sealfon shook and shouted her way though “euonym” to clinch the tournament in the late-’90s. That was the egghead equivalent of Michael Jordan blasting off from the free-throw line in the ’88 Slam Dunk Contest. Now the Weekend Theater takes a shot at the nerve-wracking edu-sport with its new show, the Tony Award-winning, bee-centric musical comedy, “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” which follows a troupe of eccentric, adolescent brainiacs on their way to A-B-C glory. If you think that watching a scripted spelling contest may seem a bit light on actual tension, audience members have the opportunity to test their own alphabetic aptitude by signing up to participate on stage. (Julie Andrews gave it a shot in 2007 and was booted after stumbling over the granddaddy of all stumpers, “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.”) The show runs through Aug. 29. JT.
• “GRIDIRON: A VIEW FROM THE BAR”
8 p.m., Arkansas Repertory Theatre. $35-$40.
The Arkansas Bar Association’s biannual comedy revue returns to the Rep stage to skewer local and national political and legal figures. The legal community makes up the cast, the Rep provides production support and Lori Isner of the Arkansas Arts Center Children’s Theatre conducts an eight-piece orchestra. This year, the show is set at a meeting of the Arkansas Bar Association at the Arlington Hotel in Hot Springs, where the cast of the daytime talk show “The View” is staying. The satire, written by lawyers whose names are kept secret, shouldn’t be so exclusive that folks outside the legal community don’t get the jokes, producer Judge Mary McGowan promises. “Gridiron” continues at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Tickets to the final Saturday performance are $25. BR.
7 p.m., Robinson Center Music Hall. $36.60-$41.75
Those who regularly gander at the two pages of Times real estate that house the To-Do List may have noticed the occasional, hinted bias towards nu-metal in all its forms. Wait, no; who am I fooling? “Hinted bias?” I can’t stand the stuff, period. Never have, never will. But for the better part of 15 years, one band, Deftones, has remained a daring, creative exception to the rule that the subgenre has to be a tin-eared wasteland. Years after its release, the 11-track “White Pony” still stands as the defining moment of post-grunge: progressive and sophisticated, mixing in trip-hop ambience and Morrissey-inspired lyricism with the familiar, bitter chunk of the genre. Now, in 2010, front man Chino Moreno is still threading his cryptic tenor through the band’s ambitious complexity and, unlike most of their ’90s peers, Deftones still has a lot of fans. The band is joined by another celebrated, heavy, shockingly melodic outfit in Baroness, the rising sludge/prog group that, in spite of having released only two (stellar) albums, is one of the best metal has to offer. JT.
• BROOKS & DUNN
7:30 p.m. Verizon Arena. $25-$69.75
For better or worse, a healthy chunk of Brooks & Dunn’s legacy is cemented in “Boot Scootin’ Boogie,” that line-dancing classic/earwig that lodged itself in everyone’s head back in 1991. But for better or worse, it was an untouchable opening statement for a band that would go on to sell more records than any other musical duo ever. Twenty-five million albums — including an unheard of five greatest hits compilations — sold in 19 years is no joke. With their astronomical commercial success and classic country songs like “My Maria” and “She Used to Be Mine,” they’re bound to leave one of the largest country music legacies ever after disbanding at the end of this, their “Last Rodeo” tour. And if last week’s announcement that Verizon Arena had to open up an extra 1,200 seats to accommodate the massive demand for tickets is any indication, the high-energy duo may leave the arena with a new attendance record as well (and “Boot Scootin’ Boogie” stuck in a record number of heads). The country megastars have the great Miranda Lambert along for the ride as well. Judging from the unbelievable string of albums she’s released since 2005 in “Kerosene,” “Gunpowder & Lead” (this writer’s pick for best country album of the last decade) and “Revolution,” the melodic, bad-ass, refreshingly authentic wunderkind stands a shot to become her own brand of country legend. JT.
• SECONDHAND SERENADE
8 p.m., Juanita’s. $16 adv., $18 d.o.s.
Still not fed up with being subjected to years and years of whimpering, hypersensitive singer/songwriters? Then boy howdy, are you ever in luck. This guy, Secondhand Serenade, the nom de sniffle of solo performer John Vesely, is swinging into town for a night of the old strum and whine at Juanita’s. Another Dashboard Confessional trope-alike, Vesely sings in a falsetto that makes Edward Cullen look like Randy Savage. And just like “Twilight” and professional wrestling, it’s meant for teen-agers. But he’s onto something: The kids love it. His rapid rise from anonymous Internet musician to MySpace’s number-one unsigned artist to full-fledged neo-emo stardom is a testament to the buying power of teeny-boppers and their appetite for sensitive, hormonal music about being sensitive and hormonal. Supply and demand: Someone’s gotta do it. He’s joined by melodic, pop-punk tour mates Runner Runner and Camera Can’t Lie. The show is, naturally, all ages. JT.
• GORDON LIGHTFOOT
8 p.m., Hot Springs Convention Center. $40-$60
Robbie Robertson of The Band calls his fellow Canadian “a national treasure.” Bob Dylan still champions the beloved folkie at every opportunity, saying “every time I hear a song of his, it’s like I wish it would last forever.” In the realm of folk music, few tracks are larger than the ones left by Gordon Lightfoot and his 12-string guitar. “Rainy Day People,” “If You Could Read My Mind,” “Sundown” and, good God, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” solidified his place as one of the greats, not to mention one of the key architects behind the organic, pop-folk sound that defined the ’60s. Now the man’s back on stage after rehabilitating from a six-week coma in 2002 that almost left his famous picking fingers atrophied, now strumming and singing through a two-hour set of highlights from his expansive catalog of songs. Young guns, don’t let the goofy name fool you. If you have acoustic aspirations, skip folks like Secondhand Serenade and respect your elders: Lightfoot’s required listening. JT.
• THE BODY
9 p.m., Juanita’s. $5.
When the opening track of The Body’s new album, “All the Waters of the Earth Shall Turn to Blood,” changes from a delicate, seven-minute choral piece to a brain-rattling shock of cymbals and coyote shrieking, it’s a jarring announcement that you’re in for a proper, auditory brain liquefier. And does it ever deliver. The album is 50 minutes of huge noise. Expansive noise. Painful noise, rounded out with sawing feedback, looping gibberish and vocals that I can’t fathom ever coming from a human. It sounds closer to a sustained dog-whistle or a GTO peeling out down the highway to hell than any other shriek around. The music itself is a beat-heavy, psychotic experiment in sonic intensity more in vein with scary Scott Walker or Sunn O)))) than, say, Dio or Iron Maiden. Now based in Providence, R.I., drummer Lee Buford and guitarist Chip King are bringing their assault to Little Rock for what should be a strange homecoming show; the two callused their hands in town, playing in vaulted local acts like Hundred Years War, Class of 84, Generation of Vipers and other Towncraft-era thrashers. And these hometown boys? They’ve done well. “All the Waters” has been met with near-universal praise everywhere from dorm room blogs to Pitchfork. I’ll join the choir, too: three days into the album and it’s already a cinch for my own “best of 2010” list. The Body is set to be joined by Iron Tongue, the relentlessly loud, heavier-than-heavy Times favorites. JT.