Made to Suffer

It's easy to see why Richard Buckner is such a fan of the Pacific Northwest's clammy climate: Rainy days are a legitimate excuse to sit around the house, dim the lights and brood. As if he needs a reason. Buckner could find the black-slate lining in the sunniest of warm spring days. As such, the San Francisco-based singer/songwriter isn't the easiest artist to nuzzle up to; he seems more interested in draining your blood than warming your heart. Most of the time, he sounds for all the world like a emotionally unbalanced Nick Cave/Woody Guthrie mutation looking to shatter every last vestige of inner peace."I'm gonna raze your faith until the vein is done and dry," Buckner heaves on "Believer," the lead-off track from Since, his latest release.

But there's a reason "Believer" -- and a majority of Since, for that matter -- is so approachable in the end. And it has more to do with the music than with any reassurances on the narrative end (trust me, there aren't many). It's highly probable that for Buckner, life on paper will always be a bleak synthesis of pain, confusion and beautifully assembled, cryptic metaphors. But he's found salvation in the players around him, like-minded misfits such as multi-instrumentalist/producer JD Foster, Tortoise's John McEntire and the Schramms' Dave Schramm. With their prodding, Buckner comes out of his shell, airing out latent pop sensibilities he never knew he had with the prettiest melodies of his short career. Whereas in previous work, the music was sparse and even claustrophobic, complementing the tone of the lyrics almost to a fault, this latest alt-countrified direction challenges Buckner's down moods, lifting that once-impenetrable, fatalistic fog.

How Since's new, more aggressive approach will play out live is hard to say. Always the reluctant center of attention, Buckner is not exactly a bundle of charm on stage. He's touring without a band, and the Mucky Duck's listening-room setting doesn't exactly lend itself to rocking out. Buckner has tried to make himself a bit more presentable of late, trimming back his beard and cutting his scraggly, shoulder-length hair to reveal his smoldering features. In fact, he's looking a little like a dumpy Lloyd Cole these days. Not that Buckner would take that as a compliment.

-- Hobart Rowland

Richard Buckner performs Tuesday, October 6, with Kelly Willis and Bruce Robison at McGonigel's Mucky Duck, 2425 Norfolk. Showtime is 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $12. For info, call 528-5999.

Judas Priest -- The leading exponents of "British Steel" resurrect the hell-bent-for-studded-leather days of heavy metal, though sans former lead singer and head bad boy Rob Halford (who's been making some headlines of his own lately by officially coming out as a homosexual). Not to worry, though. New frontman Tim "Ripper" Owens has the training for the job: He posed as Halford in a Judas Priest tribute band. And founding guitarists Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing -- arguably the band's real driving force -- remain on hand to shred strings and stir up bong-loads of flashbacks with the signature stoner anthems "You've Got Another Thing Comin'," "Breaking the Law" and "Livin' After Midnight." Time to excavate that musty, patch-laden denim jacket one last time -- even if it is a little tighter around the midsection. On Tuesday, October 6, Aerial Theater at Bayou Place, 520 Texas. Showtime 8 p.m. Tickets $19. Moondog Mane opens. 629-3700. (Bob Ruggiero)


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