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Fans cheer on the local band, Laroga, during the 45th annual Battle of the Bands Saturday February 9th, at Chabot college in Hayward. (Mike Lucia/Daily Review)
HAYWARD — Perched fearlessly on a stage before a crowd of more than a 1,000, the French Cassettes rocked the audience's world.

The lead singer, dressed in a rainbow colored sweater paired with a large red bow-tie, soulfully bellowed lyrics with anguish and disdain that sounded far too real, far too heart-felt, to belong to the pipes of a 17-year-old.

"Hallelujah," screamed Scott Huerta, as the guitarist and organ player jammed together in dramatic unison. "We scream louder. Hallelujah, we scream louder."

The band beat out 11 others from around the Bay Area Saturday night to take first place at the 45th Annual Battle of the Bands at Hayward's Chabot College.

The bands played a range of music that wasas diverse as it was melodic. Billy the Kid, an alternative punk band from San Mateo, played a power-chord-infused, preteen-angst-filled punk set that would satisfy any die-hard fan of early Green Day or Sum41.

For the hard core metal fans, Edge of Destruction brought exactly what their name suggests, with a set featuring heavy distortion, hard-core bass lines, thunderous guitar solos and fierce vocals.

But it was the French Cassettes, a group from Ripon, just outside of Modesto, that absolutely stole the show. Their music, proclaimed to be "French pop," was stunningly orchestrated, deeply moving and heartfelt. The audience could not help but rise to its feet as the band humbly walked off the stage to a thunderous eruption of applause that was the loudest ovation of the night.


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Think Radiohead, with the dramatic overtones of Queen and the technique of bands like Muse and Led Zepplin. It was almost impossible to believe that these musicians were teens.

The event has long served to give young musicians a chance to show their stuff.

"The purpose of all this is to have a family-oriented event that showcases young, extremely talented musicians who would never have the opportunity to play in such a large venue," said 41-year-old Roxanna Salinas, coordinator for the event, which is put on by the city's Parks and Recreation District.

Bands audition before a panel of judges for 12 minutes. The Top 12 are invited to perform at the finale.

Lloyd Stark, one of 12 judges, has judged the Battle of the Bands for years and actually auditioned with his band in 1968.

"This is to encourage young musicians," he said. "To every one of these kids, this is a huge deal. It's so great to know that music is such a huge part of these young people's lives. This is the longest running Battle of the Bands in California and we're hoping to run it across the country."

The winners of the competition receive a plethora of prizes, including custom-made Ovation guitars, free studio sessions, photo sessions with professional photographers and, most importantly, an appearance at the "Impact Show" in 2008. Most importantly, the winners get exposure and a chance to make it in the industry.

According to Salinas, many earlier participants have done just that. Members of extremely successful bands like Yesterday and Today, Mr. Big and Tesla competed at the Hayward venue. Even the legendary Kirk Hammond, lead guitarist of Metallica, had his roots grounded in this show.

"Being up there man, it's like a natural high," said 23-year-old Sean "Killer Sexy" O'Kelly, bassist for the Santa Cruz band Villains of Vinyl. "You sit back stage all night and just wait and wait and wait. All you want to do is perform and you're plagued by this positive nervousness.

"Then you finally get up there and you become a totally different person. I get up there and I become 'Killer Sexy.'"

As the night began to reach its end, the audience eagerly anticipated the results of the competition.

In third place was the extremely technical, musically diverse band Suspicious Package, which rocked the stage with music that ranged from spaghetti western rock to surf punk, complimented with beautiful, lightly distorted guitar solos.

Taking second place was the charismatic punk band Billy the Kid, which played with confidence and enthusiasm.

It came as no surprise, however, that the French Cassettes came in first. They gathered on stage, hugging and laughing hysterically as the crowd went wild. They thanked the audience, they thanked their hometown and, of course, they thanked "Matt's garage," where they practiced their music. 

Good for You, an alternative/emo band out of San Jose, summed the night up quite well in the lyrics to one of their songs.

"This is the color of a brand new night," they bellowed to the screaming audience. "Where we light the fire and pray it will never burn out."