Dozens of students crowded into the Hub to see four local bands duke it out on stage Thursday night. The bands com- peted for the coveted prize of inclusion in the Extravaganza 2011 lineup. Each band had approximately 25 minutes to show the judges and crowd their best stuff.

The first band, Sprout, was also the largest in the competition, consisting of a drummer, a pianist/vocalist, a guy on the Cuban drum, a bassist, two guitarists and two backup singers/dancers/tambourine players. This eight-headed super-band kicked off the event at a sprint with its classic ’70s-rock style. Sprout boasted competent guitars and keyboard with a heavy blues influence, a soulful singer, decent drummer and a proficient bassist. Their songs were very well-composed and showed off everyone’s talents in their own ways, but the keyboardist and gui- tarist were the main focus here. While at times the singer could not really be understood (because part of having “soul” is screaming your lyrics apparently), the band brought enough energy to instantly set them off as one of the top bands of the night.

Before the second band, Dante Elephante, came out, the announcer warned the crowd about moshing. One would think the next band was some heavy metal band and that maybe we were moving up to the ’80s, but no. Dante Elephante is a far cry from the soulful blues rock of Sprout. Borrowing more from modern alternative rock bands like The Killers or The Strokes, the four-piece Dante Elephante was heavy on the chords and light on the variety. Perhaps it could be attributed to their “couldn’t-care-less” presence but I did not find much appealing in this band. The audience seemed to enjoy it and the lead singer/guitarist certainly knew how to pump up a crowd — something the drunken attendees enjoyed. Despite their weak start, they really got their act together for the second half. They finished off with their best song but at that point it was too little, too late to win this audience member over.

Once that act was over, the stage soon became crowded with the poncho-wear- ing third group, Junipero, a folk band. Consisting of a singer/guitarist, violinist, backup singer and percussionist, Junipero was clearly the odd duck in this competi- tion. It is rare when such a unique set-up pays off, especially in competition with more traditional rock set-ups.

However, Junipero brought a strong performance. With great, soft vocals, subtle acoustic chords and a skillful vio- linist, Junipero helped wind down the crowd after the energetic earlier act. Perhaps the only disappointment of their performance was when the violinist’s microphone failed. Whether a technical difficulty or just how they set it up, the issue rendered certain solos and violin segments inaudible. A shame, since I’m a sucker for a good violin and I heard from a fan that, “Dave the violinist is the man!” The problem may have been fixed later because I got to hear Dave’s violin solo and yes, he is indeed the man.

The final act of the night brought the audience back to the ’70s yet again, but from an entirely new perspective. The Release closed the night with a heavily funk-driven set. The five-member group kept rhythm with some of the best guitar playing of the night. Added to that was a skilled bassist, a dancing keyboardist and a talented drummer.

However, it was not all funk for the entire set. The band slowed the pace down halfway through for a slow jazz, keyboard-heavy track that showed off the band’s talent range. The band then closed with possibly the best song of the night, and even though it was purely instrumental, it let every member have a moment in the spotlight. The set ended and the crowd cheered like mad, banging on the rails and screaming “Encore!” The announcer’s words were drowned out in the bombastic clamor of the audience.

Sadly, the audience was not granted their encore — people had forgotten it was a competition, not a concert — and the judges made their choice. After such a powerful finish and a consistently talented set list, it seemed clear who would come out on top. Possibly the entire audience screamed for The Release, and as tensions rose the decision was announced. Through the overpowering waves of chants, one word was heard which sent the audience into a fit of blind fury.

The winner of the Battle of the Bands: Sprout. Controversial as it was, all the booing in the world would not change the verdict, and oh, were people pissed. Several audience members marched off with unchanged opinions of who the winner was. “The Release is the people’s champ!” they shouted. As for the bands that lost, spirits remained high in the face of disappointment. The singer of Junipero still felt the show was “a lot of fun” and in the end isn’t that all that matters? Battle of the Bands is not only a competition but a chance to let small bands reach out to new ears. If The Release is any indica- tion, one does not need to win the prize to succeed.