Hard-Rockin' Backslash Wins Our First High School Rock Off

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Houston's Backslash, none of whom were alive when Appetite for Destruction came out, won the first annual Texas High School Rock Off Friday night at House of Blues, taking home $500, a spiffy new trophy and the chance to open for a national act to be named later at House of Blues. Rocks Off suggested Anvil next Sunday, but apparently the Canadian "Metal on Metal" demi-gods aren't having any local openers. Fronted by 16-year-old dynamo Tony Pope (above), who goes to 11 even when he's offstage and has the stage presence and attitude of a young Axl Rose in training - just don't beat up your girlfriend, dude - Backslash wowed the decent-size (if constantly coming and going) crowd on hand and the judges with the junior power-metal attack of songs like "Chaos Control" and "The Prophet." Jazz-funk combo Disfunkshun, who closed with a spot-on cover of Biz Markie's "Just a Friend," came in second. The Handshake, who combined shoegazey art rock and gritty blues-based jamming a la Govt Mule, placed third. Among those who didn't place, Rocks Off found something redeemable in each one - power-poppers the Paperwaits' innate grasp of three-chord song structure, Living Vicariously's stylistic breadth (and temerity in covering Matchbox Twenty's "3 a.m.") and Useful Information's balance of fluidity and aggression. Although some of the bands' eyes were bigger than their stomachs as far as songwriting vs. execution, we were impressed by all the groups' musical ability, and thought Disfunkshun and the Handshake meshed together especially well. Pretty much the only real criticisms we had tied directly back to being young and inexperienced: players looking at their hands instead of the audience, singers swallowing the microphone or seeking refuge by the drum kit instead of stepping up front, songs that sounded pretty on the surface but lacked focus and direction; a sense of really being a song, in other words. All of that can be fixed if these musicians keep at it, and Rocks Off hopes they do. We bet, for some of them anyway, Friday was their first opportunity to play somewhere besides a school talent show or house party. It would be all too easy to pun off The Who and say the kids are all right. But besides being a horrible cliche at this point, Rocks Off isn't even sure we weren't the only non-parents in the building who even know who that is. (Until the Super Bowl in a few weeks, that is.) We already almost broke down in tears when we realized we were among the very few people there who were alive when the Clash's Sandinista! came out. So here's a line from a song a lot of the kids on hand Friday might actually recognize - MGMT's "Kids":

"You were a child, crawlin' on your knees toward it/ Makin' mama so proud, but your voice was too loud."

Yeah, that works a lot better. Congratulations and thanks to everyone who participated. Hopefully we can do this again next year (if not before), and Rocks Off certainly hopes to hear more from all of Friday's bands in the future. For more photos from Friday's High School Rock Off, see our slideshow here.

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