Merge Records' package tour, New Buffalo's Olivia Newton-John sweetness, and the return (yet again) of American Music Club

In the 1950s, bands went on "package tours," where each of many performers took the stage for 15-20 minutes apiece. It's unknown if the Merge Records honchos had this concept in mind, but I'd like to think so; it's a nifty strategy for showcasing a label's talent, and if one dislikes a band's performance, it won't feel like eternity 'til it's over. The Merge agenda: hometown hero Richard Buckner , gothic (more Tennessee Williams than Bauhaus, really) country-rocker extraordinaire; Portastatic , the less punk-ish, more bittersweet pop trio of Merge founder Mac McCaughan from Superchunk; Crooked Fingers , Eric Bachmann's (ex-Archers of Loaf) vehicle for melodious, orchestrated, narrative-driven pop (Dignity and Shame is a concept album about bullfighting icon Manolete); Tenement Halls, for which Chris Lopez refines the reverb-swathed garage-rock of his former band the Rock*A*Teens; former Spent singer/guitarist Annie Hayden , who pursues lyrical introspection analogous to Joni Mitchell and pre-Rumours Fleetwood Mac; and the Rosebuds , a Raleigh, N.C., husband-and-wife-helmed quartet whose sound ranges from peppy bubblegum-punk to the mature musings of Birds Make Good Neighbors. Catch this caravan Saturday, Nov. 12, at Bottom of the Hill; call 621-4455 or visit www.bottomofthehill.com. -- Mark Keresman


On first listen, Sally Seltmann (aka New Buffalo ) has one of those imperfect-yet-pretty voices that grate on your nerves ... until you find yourself longing for its airy, Olivia Newton-Johnlike sweetness. (The similarity is no coincidence; the Melbourne-based songwriter has cited John as her favorite Australian musician.) Seltmann produced her latest album, The Last Beautiful Day, and played almost all the instruments on it herself, except when Beth Orton and the Dirty Three's Jim White dropped by the studio to help with vocals and drums, respectively. The album's got a '70s vibe, mixing Seltmann's singular vox with lush string arrangements, childlike keyboards with sophisticated saxophones, retro-jazzy drums with modern loops and glitches. See for yourself if all the studio artistry translates live when New Buffalo opens for fellow Aussie Ben Lee on Tuesday, Nov. 15, at the Independent; call 771-1421 or visit theindependentsf.com for info. -- Maya Kroth


Inaugurated in 1983, long before "Americana" became an institution, S.F.'s own American Music Club entwined aspects of rock, country, folk, and traditional (i.e., pre-rock) pop around the personal (some might say "warped" or "tortured") vision of smoky-throated singer/guitarist Mark Eitzel. After years of critical acclaim but negligible popularity (except in Europe), the Club adjourned and Eitzel went solo. But apparently you can't keep a good downer down: In 2004, members Eitzel, Dan Pearson, Vudi, and Tim Mooney (ex-Toiling Midgets) reconvened, with the keyboards of Marc Capelle supplanting Bruce Kaphan's evocative pedal steel guitar. The resulting album, Love Songs For Patriots (Merge), sports a sparse, bristly approach and is particularly dejected and borderline loopy. Like a more lucid Syd Barrett, Eitzel tells stories of love by the hour ("Patriot's Heart") and large-scale gullibility ("America Loves the Minstrel Show"), while the band adorns his velvety crooning with harrowing, clanging soundscapes. Uneasy times call for uneasy listening, and AMC undeniably seeks to provoke rather than console. Join the Club on Wednesday, Nov. 16, when the band opens for Spoon at the SF Weekly Warfield; call 567-2050 or visit www.bgp.com.-- Mark Keresman

 
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