OPENING DAY AT OAKLAWN
1:30 p.m. Oaklawn Racing & Gaming, Hot Springs. Free.
Horse racing is, by obvious necessity, an outdoor sport. Arkansas weather is legendary for being unpredictable. The combination of the two in late January means many years see glorious, crisp bright air full of crowds roaring with the ecstasy of a perfect bet or the groans of another hope dashed to the ground in disgust. Other years, wagering with winter winds ends up paying dividends of wet, sloppy or downright arctic winter. This year was such a year, with frigid temperatures forcing the Hot Springs racing venue to push back opening day one week, a move that saw massive amounts of Oaklawn’s legendary corned beef (prepared for the normal opening day insanity of $0.50 sandwiches all day) turned into what surely was a fantastic feast for the homeless of the Spa City. But all that is last week, and just like when the ponies don’t pay off, the only thing to do is to head to the window and try again. This year, admission to the park is free for all races, leaving you exactly two extra dollars in your pocket for a minimum wager. Even if you’re not the gambling type, the festive atmosphere and people watching are worth the trip, and all activities at the park are made that much sweeter with a glass of track beer in one hand and whatever sandwich, corn dog or even plate of oysters on the half-shell you can carry in the other. It’s often rowdy, always fun, and after one week under the weather, it’s back for the 111th year. MR
7 p.m. Ron Robinson Theater. $5.
At the heart of “Chinatown,” named the best film ever made by The Guardian in 2010, is a hard-boiled Los Angeles of orange groves, venetian blinds, paranoia, Raymond Chandler and political and sexual depredation. It’s Death Valley, the conspiracy behind the drought, a dead end. The film is based on an old LAPD joke: What do you do in Chinatown? As little as possible. It marked director Roman Polanski’s first return to Hollywood since 1969, when his pregnant wife was murdered by the Manson Family. It is a bleak film, but also a funny and compelling and contagiously quotable one. “Does it hurt?” Jack Nicholson is asked after his nose is slit by a switchblade. “Only when I breathe,” he says. Those who complain that “Inherent Vice” was too confusing will be gloriously confounded by “Chinatown,” which like all noir classics gives you only a glimpse of a larger violence, a hint of a widespread and unstoppable collusion. It isn’t about discovering the solution to a problem, but about recognizing, for the first time, the terrifying extent of the problem. “Chinatown” is indisputably an American classic, one of the first great films that everyone sees, but how often do you get a chance to see it on the big screen? For me, the answer is never — until now. This week, we’ll be showing the film at the Ron Robinson Theater as part of our ongoing Arkansas Times Film Series, co-sponsored by the Little Rock Film Festival. WS
SHOOG RADIO PRESENTS: TYRANNOSAURUS CHICKEN, BOMBAY HARAMBEE, MICHAEL LEONARD WITHAM
9:30 p.m. White Water Tavern.
KABF show Shoog Radio, hosted by Aaron Sarlo and Kara Bibb, regularly features live performances and on-air interviews in addition to an all-local playlist. “We want Shoog, and KABF as a whole, to become a focal point for local artists,” they told the Times back in October. This weekend they’re taking that a step further with a fundraiser showcase at White Water Tavern, featuring twisted punk-blues fusion duo Tyrannosaurus Chicken, garage punk upstarts Bombay Harambee (fresh off the release of their new cassette “Wolfman Fellowship”) and North Little Rock singer-songwriter Michael Leonard Witham. In the lead-up to the concert, all proceeds of which will presumably go to support the volunteer-run show, KABF will be airing “Shoog-A-Thon,” a three-hour live music broadcast, beginning at 3 p.m., featuring performances by John Willis and Late Romantics, Amy Garland, Mandy McBryde, Sea Nanners and more (including poetry readings). Tune in at 88.3 FM. WS
11:30 p.m. Club Elevations.
Rocko began his career in the ’90s as a ghost on the periphery of Atlanta rap, a writer and producer and brilliant A&R guy. In his latter incarnation, he was an early and powerful force behind the rise of Young Dro and Dem Franchize Boyz, without whom my adolescence would have been considerably more tedious. Somewhere in there, he signed with Def Jam and started half-heartedly pursuing a solo career which, aside from the 2007 single “Umma Do Me” and a couple of memorable reality TV appearances, wouldn’t make much of a dent on the cultural radar until two years ago, when he released a song called “U.O.E.N.O.” The song became, in effect, more successful than Rocko himself, to the degree that most people today don’t even remember him as the primary artist behind it. They’re more likely to remember Rick Ross’ now-excised verse, which included a chilling date rape scene that became briefly controversial, at least among afternoon hip-hop radio personalities. “U.O.E.N.O.” also entered the lexicon as a sort of mantra. Still, the song somehow overshadowed the fact that Rocko was making the best music of his career in his mid-30s. Look no further than his symbiotic collaborations with Future, songs like “Squares Out Your Circle,” which finds him meditating on his own loneliness and his alienation from old friends, the people he grew up with. He compares them to “gangrene” now, and says, “It’s midnight in Georgia.” He seems genuinely broken up. “Always sit and I laugh,” he says, dismissing it, which only makes him seem more vulnerable. “I just laugh.” WS
7:30 p.m. Reynolds Performance Hall, Conway. $30-$40.
As much as we all love and admire the soundtracks to “James and the Giant Peach” and “Toy Story” and “Seabiscuit” and “Monsters, Inc.” — and we do, we love and admire them, these are canon — some of us have also found ourselves, at one point or another in the last three decades, wondering, “Randy Newman, what the fuck?” This is surely a hereditary dysfunction, at least partly. Three of his uncles were Academy Award-nominated film composers, and four cousins went the same route, including Thomas Newman, one of the most celebrated film composers of our day. It’s also true that Newman’s records were never as successful as they’re now remembered to have been. “Sail Away” is a baby boomer classic, sure, but it also peaked on the charts at No. 163. His biggest hits in the 1970s were whatever songs Three Dog Night decided to cover that year (plus “Short People,” which he’d later write off as a “bad break” and a “novelty song”). He also didn’t try particularly hard. Here he is trying to sell his album “Little Criminals” to NME: “There’s one song about a child murderer … That’s fairly optimistic. Maybe.” Great! Still, it’s hard not to miss the Newman who wrote songs about cocaine and boredom and obscure chapters of American history. Who made sing-along choruses out of caustic, self-lacerating one-liners like “It takes a whole lot of medicine / For me to pretend that I’m somebody else.” How much medicine does it take to write the theme song to “Monk”? WS
7:30 p.m. Juanita’s. $25.
Todd Barry spent part of the 1980s playing drums in The Chant, a post-punk, jangle-rock band based in South Florida. He moved to New York at the end of the decade and dove into the city’s alternative comedy scene in Lower Manhattan clubs like Luna Lounge and Catch a Rising Star, a community that included Louis C.K., Sarah Silverman, Dave Attell, Marc Maron and David Cross. Even if the name doesn’t ring a bell, you’d recognize him from big cameos in every great TV comedy of the past few decades, from “The Larry Sanders Show” through “Louie.” He’s a frequent voice actor (“Dr. Katz,” “Home Movies,” “Wonder Showzen,” “Squidbillies,” etc.), and it’s not hard to see why: His style is bone dry, a little smug and hypnotically ironic — a monotone of a drawl that’s instantly familiar and funny. The New York Times has written that Barry “sounds like an impossibly cool combination of Jack Nicholson in his prime and a smug jazz D.J. after a few bong hits,” which sounds about right, especially the jazz D.J. thing. WS