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I judged a battle of the bands last Tuesday night at the Hard Rock Café, home to Mojo’s leathers and Madonna’s bulletproof bra. The event was the San Diego leg of the Ambassadors of Rock competition, of which the final winning band gets a trip to London to open shows for Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen. I know: That’s a prize? Nothing against them mega men, but who’d want to play before 40,000 piss-drunk soccer fans clamoring for “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out”? Oi, get off the fookin’ stage!

Sobutanyway, 91X did the selection legwork, and the Hard Rock downtown hosted the four SD finalists — Fuzz-Huzzi, New Archaic, Bitter Sober, Long Live Logos — who would be judged by Sonny Sandoval from P.O.D., 91X muckity-muck Josh Hammond, and me. We scored it like this: points for overall musicianship (up to 30), points for vocals (up to 20), points for stage presence (up to 20), originality of two songs performed (up to 20 points), audience reaction (up to 10). Easy.

The club was crowded and staff eager to please with a steady flow of greasy eats and complimentary quaffs for the judges’ table, which was a little far from the stage. We were tucked under the flying Harley at the back of the packed dance floor with little-to-no view of the performers. But the sound was good and loud.

Over the course of the show, Sandoval spilled a couple of Red Bulls on us. Yes, twice. He might deny it, but I have a picture with the rock star, and you can clearly see the stains on my shirt. Do you know what it’s like trying to get gabardine cleaned? Anyway, forget it, he’s a sweet (if a bit clumsy) kid.

All four bands were solid, entertaining, difficult to dismiss. By audience reaction, and there were at least 300 head at the back of the bar for the event, it was a helluva show. And in the end, the best band won because musically they had the most range, braving away from staid song structures and taking chances vocally without a hint of posturing.

“Each band was the best in their genre,” explained Hammond about the selections. I’m not sure what genre New Archaic falls into (arena pop?), but they bested the field and took one step closer to London that night.

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