Goodwin, Tripp Fontaine, Love Vs. Hate, the Bomb Almighty

After the first round of Rolling Rock's Battle of the Bands, the trouble was clear: This month-long competition for $1,000 (finals are June 24) was over, because the best bands had already competed. Who would have guessed? High-quality radio rock at the Hard Rock Cafe? What's more, not just one band, but two, pulled off the shocker.

Thursday's contest also featured forgettable emo-rockers Bomb Almighty and sloppy hard-rockers Love Vs. Hate, but the competition didn't begin until Goodwin wowed the crowd. Lead singer Tony Diaz took command with vocals like a deeper-voiced Steve Perry and the charisma of Jack Black. When he sang, "I don't want to be the only one to make noise in the crowd," the audience sang right back. His bandmates backed the sing-along lyrics with catchy power-pop that melded Journey and Purple-era Stone Temple Pilots, matching Diaz's energy with twirling drumsticks and midair splits.

Tripp Fontaine, on the other hand, looked like they'd been prepackaged by MTV, as their influences jumped from the Goo Goo Dolls to the Nixons and then to Coldplay at a moment's notice. The band's proficiency was remarkable, and the songs sounded like they'd shine in the studio, but their radio-friendly formula never got the onstage jolt I'd hoped for. With a small remaining crowd, the band seemed to grow bored. Even so, their solid performance managed to win the round. Maybe the real reason is that Goodwin's friends left before an emcee reminded the crowd to vote with paper ballots, but at any rate, Tripp Fontaine's win gives the guys a decent shot at taking the whole contest with little struggle. Still, by affirming an explosive live reputation, Goodwin could be the bigger metroplex winner in the years to come.