When American Music Club announced last summer that they'd reunited, it was easy to take the news cynically--it looked like a retreat by band leader Mark Eitzel from a messy, weakly received solo career and an acknowledgment that he wasn't the genius people said he was a decade ago. But even the critically acclaimed AMC never sold well, and revisiting their discography reveals that the band was pretty messy as well. Eitzel was one of many sad-sack singer-songwriters coming out of San Francisco in the 80s and early 90s--along with Mark Kozelek and Barbara Manning--but none more fervently pursued the idea that punk, Sinatra, and folk rock spoke the same language. In AMC Eitzel's misery was usually and thankfully leavened by Bruce Kaphan's pedal steel and Vudi's electric guitar; the band made a dozen classics, including country-tinged paeans to alcoholic dissolution like "Room Above the Club" and "Outside This Bar," raving desperate pleas like "Somewhere" and "Wish the World Away," and elegantly crafted pop like "Firefly" and "If I Had a Hammer," but they never made a great record. They were, in short, direly in need of a best-of, and a fringe benefit of this reunion is that it has produced one: American Music Club 1984-1995 (Undertow). The band has a new album due later this year; on the evidence of the track "Ladies and Gentlemen, It's Time," they've recaptured the shambling, atmospheric folk-with-feedback sound they invented, and Eitzel's enduring despair has been tempered by a decade of emotional and musical growth. Friday, March 26, 7:30 and 10 PM, Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln; 773-728-6000.