Thursday, December 15, 2005 | Upcoming music, dance and film events:

MUSIC

What does San Diego have to do with bluegrass? Ask Nickel Creek – these three young bluegrass pickers apparently found enough rootsy inspiration in America’s Finest City to lead something of a mini-revival for the genre. It was about time: Despite that this mix of folk and country is one of our nation’s classic forms, interested youth like Nickel Creek helped deliver it from the life-support festival circuit and put it back in the popular consciousness. Not bad for a few West-Coasters. 8 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 15 and Friday, Dec. 16 at House of Blues, 1055 Fifth Ave., downtown. $26-28.

More tunes:

– For those of us too young to remember the days of Tin Pan Alley, it’s hard to trace Neil Diamond’s trajectory from 1960s folkie to 1980s adult contemporary megahit. Our experience is limited to fading white cassettes that belonged to our parents, and the subsequent notion that the older generations were on to something lame that we weren’t. But there’s been a second coming for the man who recorded such milestones as “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon” and “Sweet Caroline.”

His new album “12 Songs,” produced by Rick Rubin (the man who brought Johnny Cash back to the mic before he died), shows a more introspective side of Diamond’s talents, trading giddy glitz for genuine songwriting. Now that he’s turning back the blandness, Diamond might be surprised about all the youngsters who want to know about that dude their parents used to listen to after all. 8 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 21, at the ipayOne Center @ The Sports Arena, 3500 Sports Arena Blvd. $42.50-$75.

– Glen Matlock might be the punkest punk you never heard of. He was even too punk for the Sex Pistols – after laying nearly all the bass tracks for their single tortured tome, Matlock quit the group, letting the infamous (and instrumentally inept) Sid Vicious bask in the glory of another man’s four-string anarchy. But leaving a legend like the Sex Pistols puts a young punker in quite a pickle: How to top that status? Matlock’s been trying ever since, with mostly mediocre results. 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 16 at Brick by Brick, 1130 Buenos Ave. $12 advance/$14 day of show.

– In further proof that our collective fascination with hopelessly romanticized representations of the past – and patent leather shoes – will never abate, Brian Setzer still tours. He’s even put out another Christmas album for 2005. But don’t expect the Stray Cats king to update his sound, or his hairdo – with a schtick that’s all merely antiquated, amplified style, his days were numbered from the beginning. 8 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 18 at House of Blues, 1055 Fifth Ave., downtown. $65-67.50. (ISP)

DANCE

Not all it’s cracked up to be. For a century-old piece of Russian ballet, “The Nutcracker” is a fairytale that’s stretched to stay in fashion. Clara is a well-adjusted little girl who plans to find the right guy, get married and stay skinny in spite of indulging in too many sugarplums. Her dream prince is the epitome of modern metrosexual – comfortable in a pair of white tights but still man enough to win a bar brawl, at least against an oversized mouse with a few extra heads. Together they support multi-cultural activities like Spanish, Arabic and Chinese dance and socialize with other good-looking people who wear expensive clothes before returning home to their faux-wood fireplace and overpriced antique furniture. We suspect little Clara has some disappointments in store, but with seven maids to do her laundry, rest assured Daddy will buy her a red Ferrari to dry her tears when she outgrows her nutcracker.

To the sweet symphonic sounds of Tchaikovsky, San Diego will suit all your “Nutcracker” needs this season:

– City Ballet claims their version is deemed “Best Nutcracker” in San Diego, causing us to wonder who actually went more than once. But an opulent venue, full orchestra and cast of talented dancers at least make it a good bet for your first – hey, or fifteenth – time. Plays at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, through Dec. 18, at Spreckels Theatre, 121 Broadway, downtown. Info: (858) 272-8663 or www.cityballet.org.

– An international cast of professional dancers are working overtime to transform a rather mundane theater into a place fit for fairies and princes. Plays at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday and 5:30 p.m. Sunday, through Dec. 18 at the Mandeville Auditorium, University of California, San Diego campus, 9500 Gilman Drive, La Jolla. Info: (619) 294-7311 or www.sandiegoballet.org.

– Two dates are left to hear the San Diego Symphony play Tchaikovsky’s famous notes with all the proper acoustics. Plays at 2:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday and at 1 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 23-24 at the Copley Symphony Hall, 750 B. St., downtown. Info: (858) 560-6741 or www.californiaballet.org.

– When your daughter and her eight friends announce that they want to go see the “Nutcracker,” be glad that the San Diego Civic Youth Ballet offers an affordable option, featuring nearly 100 small but enthusiastic dancers. Plays at 7 p.m. Friday and at 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 16-18, at the Casa del Prado Theater in Balboa Park. Info: (619) 233-3060 or www.sdcyb.org. (JH)

FILM

It’s a film festivus for the rest of us. It’s that time of year when, for many individuals, the thought of going to the mall sends blood pressure and stress levels soaring. To-do lists never seem to end while the clock ticks faster and faster. If you’re looking for an escape from the holiday madness and mob of humanity, why not unwind with a film? Forget about the multiplex; this weekend boasts an unusual amount of home-grown film festivals, with admission ranging from free to just a few bucks.

Take a break from the endless shopping and office parties by attending one of these film-friendly events:

– San Diego State University undergrad and grad film students celebrate the end of the semester by inviting the public to attend a screening of more than two dozen short films Friday, Dec. 16. Jack Ofield, head of the SDSU film department, describes the collected works as “a real mixed bag of comedy, drama and music videos. A pre-screening barbecue (with meat and vegetarian options) begins at 5:30 p.m.; the first of two 90-minute screenings starts at 7 p.m. followed by a brief intermission. Don Powell Theatre, SDSU campus. $10 (includes both film screenings and barbecue). Info: (619) 594-1375.

– Too busy to watch a movie? How about one that lasts 59 seconds? Dozens of short films from around the world running no more longer than 59 seconds will be projected inside the Media Arts Center’s living room during the “59 Seconds Film and Video Festival” 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m., tonight (Thursday, Dec. 15). It’s an open screening, so budding filmmakers are encouraged to bring their films to share with the audience. The Media Arts Center San Diego, 921 25th St., Golden Hill. Free admission, free popcorn and $1-2 beverages. Info: (619) 230-1938 or www.mediaartscenter.org.

– The Visual Underground will screen a handful of short films, music videos, animations and Web rarities during its “Holiday in Cambodia” film fest starting at 8 p.m. tonight (Thursday, Dec. 15) at the Whistle Stop Bar, 2236 Fern St., South Park. Admission is $5 or free with a $10 or more toy donation to benefit Toys for Tots. Info: (619) 555-5555 or http://thevisualunderground.com.

– There won’t be films, but there will be cult film legend John Waters musing about the quirkier side of the holidays during this rare one-man show at the Casbah. 8:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 18, 2501 Kettner Blvd. Info: (619) 232-HELL or www.casbahmusic.com. $40-75. (CC)

– VOICE STAFF

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