by JEFF ECKERT & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & T & lt;/span & he American public has a fascination with The Battle of the [insert battle subject here]. I blame Thunderdome. In the next few weeks, instead of post-apocalyptic combat, local high school bands will be competing for the honor of winning the RAWK Final Four. Over the next two months, 20 bands will enter. One band will emerge the winner, having accomplished its goal of rocking the faces off the competition (and presumably, the audience). Here's a quick look at the lineup for the first round.

First up is The Deadhorse Express, who tout themselves as Christian thrash out of Mead. Fans of incomprehensible growling and crunchy, angular guitars will be pleased, as these guys wield both with aplomb. Neophytes beware -- this music is kind of scary. I think that's the point.

Next on the bill is the Showgun, from Moses Lake. Let's see -- growling, incomprehensible vocals? Check. Technical skill and mathy ambition? Double check. I'm starting to see a pattern. Showgun hews closer to the palatable, vocal-wise. So far, we're looking at an ear-splitting lineup, but if there's anything I've learned about battles of the bands, it's that violently mismatched genres are the name of the game. Any respite, next band?

The Chasing, out of Coeur D'Alene, delivers that rest in the form of music described as "Stevie Ray Vaughn and early Maroon 5 together in a Tilt-a-Whirl." I'm skeptical. Though the band's bio goes to great lengths to profess a love of the blues, I'm hearing hardly any blues influences whatsoever on the few tracks available on their MySpace. I like them, though, especially as a nice counterpoint to the previous two. Josh Hardy, the guitarist and vocalist, can definitely play, but his vocals can be too plaintive, too artfully "soulful." Bonus points on the recent addition of keyboardist Jackson Cate, though, who is awesome.

Following them is Spokane's Lot Lizards, who play dissonant yet enjoyable punk like they worship at the altar of Henry Rollins. (And who doesn't?) I like these guys a lot; the musicianship isn't exactly virtuosic -- being, well, punk -- but they have a great sense of humor about it, and if they're going for a Black Flag vibe, they totally nailed it. More growling and screaming, though. Maybe I'm getting old, but how about lyrics you can actually understand?

The final band, Shooting Blanks, sounds exactly like early Blink-182. Seriously. Mark Hoppus should sue. If the Blink is your thing, you'll dig these Chewelah boys.

So who's going to win? My bet is the Lot Lizards -- they set themselves apart from the rest of the competition not by being more technically accomplished, or having more polish, but by having more fun. They're as stylistically similar to their influences as the rest of the lineup, be it Blink or Black, but they have the energy and the mischievous edge that makes for a great live performance. Authenticity is the crux of the punk aesthetic, and the Lizards are the genuine article.

RAWK Final Four Round One featuring Deadhorse Express, Showgun, The Chasing, Lot Lizards and Shooting Blanks at the Service Station on Saturday, Jan. 12, at 6 pm. $8; $10 at the door. Visit or call 325-SEAT.

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