HOT POTATOES: Papas Fritas, a ragtag trio of anti-hip popsters from Boston, can't help but win you over with their alternately happy and melancholic little tunes.

Their first self-titled album, released in 1995 on Chicago's Minty Fresh imprint, is a small pop masterpiece of utter charm and understatement; their follow-up, 1997's Helioself (Minty Fresh) had its moments -- lots of 'em, actually -- but occasionally sounded like the original cast recording of a Broadway show that never was. With the recently released third LP, Buildings and Grounds (Minty Fresh), the band retains the studio sheen of Helioself but eliminates that album's too-precious tendencies, returning instead to the songcraft which distinguishes their debut.

Papas Fritas' strength is an ability to craft an immediately catchy tune that doesn't leave the listener with a fluffy aftertaste. Somehow they manage to sound a bit more substantial than most bands treading similar territory, and the three-part boy/girl harmonies don't hurt either. In a perfect world, songs like Buildings and Grounds' "Vertical Lives" would settle into heavy rotation on Top 40 radio (or at least find a home on alternative airwaves). It's the kind of song no radio programmer would ever dare to try, but it's so undeniably catchy that one listen will leave you wondering why these guys aren't huge.

And as for the name, yes, it means "French fries" in Spanish, but it's also code for the band's m.o.: "Pop has freed us."

Get in line for some Papas Fritas on Tuesday, March 21, at Solar Culture, 31 E. Toole Ave. In a most blissful pairing, Shoebomb opens the proceedings at 9 p.m. Cover charge for this all-ages show is $6. For more information, call 884-0874.

ACCENT ON TRADITION: You didn't actually think the cocktail swilling, swell-dressed lounge rats of The Zsa Zsa's would let a holiday celebration as significant in scope as St. Patrick's Day go unnoticed, did you? Eastern Europeans with bad accents love St. Paddy's as much as anyone, and to demonstrate just how much, Satan's favorite cover band is, for one night only, renaming themselves The Mac Zsa Zsa's and performing an all-Irish show, or something to that effect.

Check out the majesty of The Mac Zsa Zsa's, along with their most excellent openers, The Les Payne Product, at 9 p.m. Friday, March 17 (St. Patrick's Day -- duh!), at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St. Cover is $5, and you can call 622-8848 with those itching, burning questions.

PASSAGE TO INDIA: Sanjaya is a locally based trio that specializes in bringing the music of India to the desert heartland, performing both traditional Indian ragas as well as original compositions that aim to fuse Eastern and Western sensibilities.

Their eponymous debut CD, released last year, is a wonderful little document of the band's success in this pursuit: it contains two original compositions (one of which, "Kalyan Wednesday," is a truly soothing highlight), two interpretations of traditional Indian songs, and a cover of The Beatles' "Within You, Without You." Pete Fine's sitar work throughout is deft and melodic; Stefin Gordon adds guitar, swaramandal and the all-important tanpura, the instrument that provides Indian music with its calming drone; and Todd Hammes gives the project added ambiance on tabla and percussion.

You're in for a treat when Sanjaya performs at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, March 19, at the Planetarium Theater at the UA Flandrau Science Center, on campus at University Boulevard and Cherry Avenue. Advance tickets are available for $10 at Antigone Books, Zip's University and Hear's Music, and by phone at 881-3947. They'll cost $2 more at the door.

SONOROUS SONORANS: And speaking of Todd Hammes, another of his adventurous musical endeavors also performs this weekend. In addition to Hammes' percussion talents, The Sonoran Consort features pianist William Campbell and saxophonist Michael Hester, all of whom call Tucson home. The trio plays strictly improvisational music that weaves together a variety of musical forms including classical, jazz and world beat, while still reflecting their desert surroundings. The Consort's live performances are reportedly astounding; see for yourself this weekend when The Sonoran Consort performs at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 18, at Casas Adobes Congregational Church, 6801 N. Oracle Road. Admission is $7 at the door. Dial 297-1181 to get your questions answered.

TWO TONS OF FUN: Fresh off an appearance at South By Southwest, Olympia, Washington's Two Ton Boa makes a stop in town this week. Show promoter Steven Eye describes the two-bass/drums/female vocalist combo as "a cross between Flipper and Jane's Addiction, with an amazing singer." Intriguing, no? Check 'em out at 9 p.m. Sunday, March 19, at Solar Culture, 31 E. Toole Ave. Bluebird opens the show, and cover is $5. Call 884-0874 with questions.

UNSTRUNG HEROES: And finally, after taking a few months off to write new material, Tucson's Twine reemerges to perform said new songs, as well as the crowd-pleasing old favorites, at 9 p.m. Saturday, March 18, at Plaza Pub, 20 E. Pennington St. Interplanetary P.O.T. opens the show, and cover is $3. Call the club at 882-0400 for more info.

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