It may seem unusual that a rarely seen band’s Friday appearance at the Revolution Room is the big news this week in local club music, considering this group plays together only once or twice a year. But with a musical history that has roots deep in the Little Rock scene, the Big Cats are a solid band and its reunion is newsworthy.
The Cats play the Rev Room at 300 President Clinton Ave. on Friday in a show that also features three popular local acts: the Easys, Smoke Up Johnny and the Reds.
Founded by Burt Taggart, Jason White, Colin Brooks and Josh Bentley, the Big Cats eventually took on second guitarist Shannon Yarbrough and began to concentrate on making music based on songs that Taggart had written while holed up in wintry isolation in Montana. Taggart has been involved in Little Rock music since an early age, opening an indie music store, founding the punk record label File 13 and playing in and producing (along with other Big Cats members) the band Chino Horde’s album, all before the age of 19.
Though labeled one of Little Rock’s most influential emo bands, Chino Horde’s members went their separate ways following the breakup of the band and dispersed to bigger cities. But when Taggart sent off the songs he wrote in Montana to his former bandmates, there was an undeniable force that drew them back to Little Rock and the music. Something completely different than Chino Horde began to take shape for this group of friends, who were learning about life in bigger cities.
The Big Cats lost guitarist Yarbrough in 2000 in a still-unsolved automobile accident early one morning on Highway 10. In subsequent Big Cats albums there are small acoustic tributes to Yarbrough. Arguably the greatest tribute, though, is Max Recordings, founded by Taggart and bearing Yarbrough’s middle name.
In 2003 the Big Cats’ album “Worrisome Blues” became the first release on the Max label. Since then, though the Big Cats remain a side project for guitarist Jason White (the “fourth” member of Green Day) and drummer Brooks (drummer for Dane Zanes and Friends, Sea Ray and now Canada’s the Stills), a loyalty and excitement surrounds a band that pays tribute to a past friend while reconfirming the bonds of the present.
The music itself is characteristic of the Max Recordings sound: alt-pop rock, an upbeat smile with a wrinkled brow, persistence in the face of adversary. Much of the music is about the band members growing older, forming families, learning more life lessons and such. In that sense it appeals highly to the 30-something crowd while maintaining a musical sensibility that attracts the maturing youngsters. But what is most engaging about the Big Cats is the ability to make good music without worrying about the financial consequences or the possibility of success. When they physically reconvene there is a spiritual reconnect as well. The Big Cats are separated from the critique in their ability to play music solely for themselves and for one lost friend, and their shows are usually filled with friends, family and (appropriate for the holidays) an appreciation for the ties that bind.
The Big Cats’ newest album, “On Tomorrow,” will be released Feb. 6.
Check out the show beginning at 9 p.m. Friday. Admission is $6.