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Sam Phillips puts the torture into torch songs; the Musical Box quenches your thirst for an old-school Genesis cover band.

Maybe it's because of her borrowed handle, but songwriter Sam Phillipsalways seems to require a little too much explanation. Fans inevitably have to qualify themselves with "Sam Phillips the singer," so as not to mix her up with the famed Sun Records producer by the same name. When it comes to her craft, it requires just as much elaboration: She's kinda like Aimee Mann, except more sinister, less L.A.; she's kinda like a young Rickie Lee Jones, except more understated, less crooning. Her marriage and musical partnership with stalwart producer T-Bone Burnett (who gets credit for bringing both Phillips and Bob Dylan out of their, um, poorly advised Christian rock episodes) has resulted in two recent records of smoky, lyrical torch songs, which Phillips herself likes to say stands for "tortured." But the only pain of experiencing Phillips in the live setting comes through the direct translation of her songs' heartache. Accompanied by spare, thoughtful arrangements for acoustic guitar, string quartet, and vaudevillian percussion, Phillips' desperate messages are breathtaking up close, making it impossible to mistake her for anyone else. She plays with the Section Quartet on Thursday, Dec. 2, at the Great American Music Hall; call 885-0750 or visit www.gamh.com for more info.
-- Nate Cavalieri

While plenty of cover bands ply their trade with all the creativity of a clock-punching wage slave, some transcend mere mimicry with their passion and obsessive attention to detail. The French Canadian progressive-rock madmen who make up the Musical Boxhave been mounting their meticulous, note-for-note re-creations of Peter Gabrielera Genesis shows for over a decade. Pulling off the intricate music, elaborate costumes, and ambitious multimedia productions that matched -- and, in some cases, topped -- Pink Floyd's mind-bending concert theatrics during the '70s, the quintet offers prog-rock graybeards a chance to experience the lysergic sensory overload of Genesis concept albums brought to life onstage. Fans who sing "Invisible Touch" and "Illegal Alien" in the shower should stay home. The Musical Box makes its first visit to the Bay Area with a full-length rendition of the sprawling, surreal 1974 opus The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway on Sunday, Dec. 5, at the Nob Hill Masonic Center; call 478-2277 or go to www.sfmasoniccenter.com.
-- Dave Pehling

Maybe he's trying to make up for getting kicked out of military school as a teenager, but Kevin Spaceyis either a giant overachiever or psychotically talented. While most of us are content working just hard enough to pay the bills and not get fired, Spacey has conquered Broadway (a Tony) and Hollywood (two Oscars). Acting muscle sufficiently flexed, he's tackling the next obvious challenge: lounge singing. As if producing, directing, co-writing, starring in, and singing on the soundtrack to this winter's Bobby Darin biopic Beyond the Sea weren't enough, Spacey is taking Darin's act -- and a 20-piece orchestra -- on the road, crooning for what will surely be capacity crowds in 10 cities. Locals lucky enough to snag tickets can expect to hear the actor's spot-on impersonation of Darin classics like "Mack the Knife" and "Splish Splash." The sold-out show hits Bimbo's on Sunday, Dec. 5; call 474-0365 or visit www.bimbos365club.com if you're in denial. If selling your mother for tickets doesn't work and nobody's scalping, treat yourself to a matinee of Beyond the Sea when it opens on Dec. 29.
-- Maya Kroth

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