Critic's Choice for the week of July 12-18, 2006 

Wistful acoustic rock, gritty country blues, and twin Italian operas, yeyeah!

Jam-Bandy Rock

Gandhi speeches with guitar solos and synth beats. Six-year-old San Francisco band From Monument to Masses plays long, jam-bandy rock without vocals alongside Saxon Shore and Denison Witmer this Friday, July 14, at Slim's in San Francisco. With two albums out and a two-month-long summer tour of the West locked and loaded, Masses is finding a home for its People's Army in midsize venues that book a lot of punk rock and harder rock acts. $11/$13. 9 p.m. Slims-SF.com (David Downs)

Drill-Sergeant Yelling

There's something enticing about the relentless, cold pummeling that Los Angeles' 400 Blows deliver. The band's ardent adherence to bassless repetitive riffs, aided by vocalist Skot Alexander's acerbic drill-sergeant yell, creates a black hole where no other sound can penetrate or survive. For those who enjoy a good beating, 400 Blows is bliss. The band plays with Oxbow, the Mass, Made Out of Babies, and Black Elk at Annie's Social Club Thursday, July 13. $10. 8 p.m. AnniesSocialClub.com (Kathleen Richards)

Indie Portraiture

San Francisco indie-rock quartet Elephone has the distinction of not sucking at all on its brand-new album The Camera Behind the Camera Behind the Camera, released this month. Whiny, reverby vocals imitate Rush's singer Geddy Lee, while simple, dancy beats pull the sound back from the brink of mopey self-indulgence. Instead, the band rocks out with its Cameras out for a CD release party alongside heated headliners Dengue Fever and Scrabbel as part of a small West Coast summer tour. Saturday, July 15 at the Independent in San Francisco. $13. 9 p.m. IndependentSF.com (D2)

Fuzzy Bunny Organs

The high desert does peculiar things to songwriters. In the case of Joshua Tree's Gram Rabbit, all that desert musing yielded lonesome, dust-kicking country ballads, but with fuzzy guitar rock and organ buzz guiding a 1970s-era flying-saucer landing in the middle of a bonged-out Hugh Hefner party. Leading the spectacle — a woman inspired by the oversexed Jessica Rabbit from Who Framed Roger Rabbit? The spacecraft lands at the Ivy Room on Saturday, July 15. $7. 10 p.m. IvyRoom.com (K.R.)

Arthouse Acoustic

Nostalgia is naughty but necessary. Oakland's Audio Out Send uses sparse piano, atmospheric guitar, and hazy vocals to create that wistful longing feeling and take listeners to its mysterious happy place. The band plays an acoustic set with the Lonelyhearts, Golden Birds, and Liam Carey at Mama Buzz on Saturday, July 15. $5. 7 p.m. MamaBuzzCafe.com. (K.R.)

Gritty Existential Blues

With a new CD, From the Dust, New England singer-songwriter Rory Block is back on the road, bringing just about the best collection of country blues with the best singing and guitar work to be found. A four-time W.C. Handy Award-winner (the Grammys of the blues), she occasionally ventures into the more electric-band-oriented realm, but for fans she's most at home with just an acoustic guitar. She mixes old songs she learned from her encounters with such masters as Skip James and Mississippi Fred McDowell with her own songs that mix gritty blues with lyrics digging into a constant search for life's meaning. She returns to the Freight & Salvage Thursday, July 13 at 8 p.m. $18.50/$19.50 door. TheFreight.org (Larry Kelp)

Dueling Puccinis

Opera lovers have a feast in store this weekend. Festival Opera presents its final two performances of Puccini's Tosca at the Dean Lesher Center in Walnut Creek on Friday, July 14 and Sunday, July 16, while Berkeley Opera opens a four-performance run of Puccini's The Girl of the Golden West at the Julia Morgan Center in Berkeley on Saturday, July 15. Walnut Creek features the intriguing debuts of soprano Othalie Graham and tenor Robert Breault of New York City Opera in the title roles, plus guest conductor Ari Pelto. Berkeley entices with the unveiling of a new English adaptation of Puccini's improbable spaghetti Western by the always intriguing, oft-hilarious David Scott Marley. Walnut Creek Tosca $35-$100; 8 p.m. and 2 p.m. FestivalOpera.com. Berkeley Golden West: $40-$15. 8 p.m. FestivalOpera.com and BerkeleyOpera.org (Jason Victor Serinus)

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