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BATTLE OF THE BANDS // Fans have night in rock 'n' roll heaven

The local rock 'n' roll music scene showcased its best performers Sunday, as eight bands turned in electrifying performances at a Battle of the Bands at Casey's Pub in Inverness.

After the last electric guitar roared its heavy metal mantra, after the last bass drum throbbed through the crowd, hard-rocking S.O.L. walked onstage through the smoke and the beer-happy crowd to collect the first prize of $150 and a year's worth of bragging rights.

S.O.L. fans cheered long and hard for their rock heroes, who played long and loud to gain their victory.

"We had an ace in the hole," lead singer Scott Derouin said afterward. "We brought along our crew."

The S.O.L "crew" consists of a large and enthusiastic following, which crowded the front rows, shouting out the band's three-letter name between songs. S.O.L. delivered five songs, all originals, in its 20-minute set.

Second place went to Hangman Jury, with its strong, guitar-driven Southern rock sound, and third place was awarded to Bad Karma, which relied heavily on its originals and excellent three-part harmonies.

But the real winners appeared to be the several hundred rock 'n' roll fans who crowded the pub. Most people came early and stayed to the end. By night's end, the smoke inside was thicker than New England fog, the music kept getting louder, and the crowd was just having too good a time to leave.

The tough task of judging the contest fell upon Kevin Johnston and Willie Arue, members of Aripeka, a Spring Hill classic rock band. After the eight bands played, the judges called for a playoff among the top three.

"It was just too close to call," Arue said.

The battle reached its peak as S.O.L., Hangman Jury and Bad Karma took the stage again for a second set to determine the top rockers. By this time, the crowd was eager for another assault on the eardrums brought on by high-decibel rock 'n' roll. Inside the pub, it was the type of atmosphere only rock can create: loud music, cold beer, thick smoke and scantily clad waitresses. This was rock 'n' roll heaven.

S.O.L. clearly was the band to beat, and its members exulted as they finished their playoff set. Derouin stood atop John Dottori's drum riser to stir up the crowd, and massive 300-pound guitarist Fred Maynard, looking sporty in his slashed leotards and black-painted fingernails, raised his arms in a victory salute. Robert Morrison plays bass for S.O.L.

The contest saw many thrilling performances by local bands. While some did not have the professional exposure shared by the top three, which are regular names on the local bar circuit, they all were polished musicians.

Second-place finisher Hangman Jury impressed the crowd and the judges with its version of the Molly Hatchet/Allman Brothers Band tune Dreams. Its second set also drew cheers with the Black Sabbath cruncher War Pigs.

Bad Karma, with its lighter rock sound, delivered the originals Break It to Me Slow, I'm There, Leave, and the Pink Floyd cover Comfortably Numb.

Other crowd-pleasers included Sound Print, a duo consisting of John Pulice and Tom Carlucci. Their best-received song was an original, Romulan Airspace. Landmine Butterfield, a new band, opened the show with an impressive version of Jimi Hendrix's Little Wing, a song seldom heard in bars.

The growing progressive music scene was represented by Brood, Worm Ranch and Head. Bill Osborn, Worm Ranch's lead singer, delivered a spirited version of Marilyn Manson's Beautiful People.