The Popular Kids and their allies
Barring the occasional set from a national touring band or a multi-band showcase of local favorites, most Wednesday nights in Raleigh are dominated by the popular open mic jams at Berkeley Cafe. But it seems as though that may change very soon thanks to a group of Kings regulars who are looking to update their role in the town’s music scene with a dose of laughter.

The Popular Kids, a nascent troupe of sketch comedians put together by Kelly Crisp of The Rosebuds, will perform most Wednesday nights at Kings when The Rosebuds are not on tour. The nearly unpublicized show opened three weeks ago to a word-of-mouth crowd of at least 50 friends of the performers, who include Crisp, Reid Johnson (Schooner, The AM) and Josh Bryant (Pidgeon English Records). Those 50 came away surprisingly satisfied with the debut performance, which began with an hour of tunes at 9 p.m. and ended just after 11 p.m. following another full hour of comedy.

The concept is based loosely around a more risque, free-for-all Saturday Night Live where all topics–from band names to pubic hair to game shows–are subject to parody and utter ridicule. Crisp didn’t shy away from the natural format comparisons, either, as she scolded a scatological Trent Bowles for pretending to be a world-peace proselytizing Kenny Rogers in the opening monologue before he announced to the audience, “Live from New York, it’s Saturday night!” Bowles later borrowed from SNL’s lauded bag of tricks again for a verbatim and unsuspectingly hilarious rendition of the Hardee’s Angus Burger commercial (How does a Texas cattle rancher actually “fall out of the boat?”).

The act entered into a temporary hiatus after the first week because Centro-matic was in town, but there will be another performance on the 29th. The show will resume with a four-week run in April. This is worth your weeknight.

In the meantime, The Rosebuds can be found on tour with The Mountain Goats for the next week. They opened Monday night for the band at Go! in Carrboro and tagged along for a one-week tour that stretched into Orlando. Watch for Crisp and husband Ivan Howard to tour for most of March, beginning with a show at Winston-Salem’s PS211 on March 6 and ending with a date in Greensboro on the 27th. Points between include stops in Philadelphia, New York City, Boston and two sets at SXSW in Austin. Never fear, though: The Rosebuds will split the tour down the middle with a hometown show at Kings on March 12.

The Balance –who opened for The Rosebuds in their Sunday afternoon send-off show at Sadlack’s last week–are done with their debut effort.

“We have CDs,” frontman and former

Ashley Stove guitarist Jim Brantley beamed to the crowd after three songs. “That’s the first time I’ve been able to say that with this band, and it feels great.”

The Balance plays Thursday with Utah! and the Stompnexx at Local 506 and again with The Rosebuds at their PS211 date in early March.

I reported in December that Pidgeon English records would be releasing Make Out later this year on vinyl. According to the band’s website, that re-release will feature not only one unreleased song from The Rosebuds but also updated artwork. The debut EP from Bellafea–the insurgent, sweetly garage duo of Heather McEntire and Nathan Buchanan–will be issued on Pidgeon English later this year, and a debut record from Raleigh’s Strange will come out on the same label in September.

David Mueller of Strange will be playing with his semi-solo project Heads on Sticks at Bickett Gallery on Feb. 27 with The Pink Slips. Mueller will enter the studio later this month with Alex Cox (Apple Juice Orchestra) and Wesley Gillespie to start recording tracks for a forthcoming Heads on Sticks EP.

Squeezetoy will play a CD Release party for their upcoming Contact on Saturday at Raleigh’s The Lincoln Theatre.

Finally, the Bleeding Hearts
Not all Raleigh bands are having such an easy run with their record label, however. After reaching an artist-friendly deal with Charlotte’s MoRisen Records last summer, The Bleeding Hearts headed into Sonic Wave Studios with Dave Bartholomew to record Stayin’ After Class on MoRisen’s dollar. After finishing most of the album, though, the band began to clash with MoRisen owner Chuck Morrison, and they were eventually dropped from the label. But the drop seems to have been a deft stroke for The Hearts: They not only walked away with a record that only needed to be mastered and pressed, but they had also generated a considerable buzz on the strength of their live set and on news of the contract.

“It seems as though they expected something completely different than what we gave them,” bassist Jimbo Britt explained to The Independent last week as guitarist Joe Yerry nodded his assent. “But that’s odd because he knew what we sounded like going in from seeing us live three or four times.”

The record they walked away with is a sometimes lighthearted, Made-in-America rock ‘n’ roll trip. Frontman Sam Madison admits to a KISS obsession and subsequent disappointment in Summer of ’79 before waxing nostalgic about the real cool year where he started “listenin’ to punk rock and drinkin’ beer.”

The band plans to release the album themselves in April if they can’t reach a deal with another label in the next few months. But one has to wonder why any label–from Yep Roc to Bloodshot and all the indie stops in between–wouldn’t want to pick up a recorded, mixed and mastered debut from a band that knows its way around album rock like few others. This record is an easy investment.

The Bleeding Hearts play with Patty Hurst Shifter at Local 506 on Feb. 26 and the next day at Kings with The Needles and Jimmy & The Teasers.

Good, bad and militant
For any upstart band looking for some measure of respect, there are two rules that must be strictly obeyed: One does not cover “Brown Eyed Girl” at a Battle of the Bands, and one does not reverently cover “Freebird”–no, never, ever. While Cross Canadian Ragweed shied away from Van Morrison in their visit to The Lincoln Theatre late last month, they must have taken every lesson ever preached from the Lynyrd Skynyrd to heart. And though they didn’t cover “Freebird” in the first 30 minutes of their set (that being the only portion which I could bare before sneaking off to Kings to catch nearly two hours of The Countdown Quartet ), one fan promised me that they had covered it the night before–and that it “rocked sweet as all hell, bitch.”

He–dressed in a Pat Green shirt and a Texas Longhorns baseball cap–also told me that I was about to witness the best show of my concert-going career.

He, as evidenced by my early departure, was wrong. Nearly the only thing this Oklahoma quartet has in common with Skynyrd is attitude–and even Ronnie VanZant would have poked fun at himself had he sported the imposing guitar strap made of machine gun shells worn by frontman Cody Canada. Is that a pro-Bush statement, dude, or are you scared of North Carolina boys with silly orange hats and Pat Green t-shirts?

On the topic of covers: Avant-garde upright bass virtuoso Rob Wasserman, who employs an array of textured distortion and loops to manipulate the sound of his custom-built Messenger Bass, offered up a blistering solo rendition of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” in his opening set for Particle at The Lincoln Theatre on Feb. 10. Rounder plans to reissue his trilogy Solo, Duets and Trios and collaborations with Michael Franti, John Popper and others. EndBlock

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