Sunset Station’s summer-long battle of the bands promises its winner something rare for even top-tier bands (no, we’re not talking about you, Blue October) these days — a headlining gig at the Station’s Lonestar Pavilion, one of SA’s best and underutilized live-music venues. In addition to the chance to stand in weeks-old Keith Sweat residue, the winning band also gets full VIP treatment (no brown M&Ms in the green room, please), and $2,500. But how should you judge who gets all the cash and prizes? The weekly competition brackets are partially determined by audience voting, after all, and like most elections, there’s no completely satisfying candidate

Does your vote go to the band with the most technical talent? If so, Down Cycle frontman Jorge Colon’s booming flannel-rock growl (more impressive live than the band’s Myspace page indicates) and guitarist Steve Salina’s Swiss Army Knife chops (ditto) might get your vote. If you get off on lyrics, however, the Hallmark platitudes in ballad “What You Need” might be a deal breaker. “Time heals all wounds, or so they say,” Colon wails, “and I know it’ll be a better day.” More problematic is the band’s overall sound. DC seems voluntarily restricted by all the bland templates and lowered expectations of last decade’s radio rock, as if the band was raised inside a bell jar, exposed only to albums by Creed and Temple of the Dog. The harder-edge “Sorrow,” propelled by Salina’s exposed-dental-filling guitar scrape, shows potential for something more personalized and meaningful.

If you prefer a more cohesive band with a solidified sound (or if you’re looking for a replacement for the band playing Tom Petty covers inside the restaurant), Odessa’s Sally Thieves is your candidate. The band, which seems to’ve brought the biggest crowd despite the lack of homefield advantage, looks like a group of scoutmasters and pee-wee basketball coaches, and their music is appropriately inoffensive — the kind of snappy lightweight pop rock you wouldn’t be embarrassed asking your 90-year-old grandpa to drive five hours to hear. Someone’s young daughter dances at the foot of the stage, and it’s appropriate: If “Games” sounds like that Counting Crows Shrek song after a sunshine enema, the goofy “Silly Putty” is the Wiggles after a Care Bear bukkake.

Sort-of punkers Applicant get my vote, however, if only for having the balls to up their ampage during soundcheck. The promisingly nasty guitar blurts and screams might’ve caught the small children and grandparents in the audience off guard, but the volume level during Applicant’s actual performance was disappointingly comfortable . Standout “Cheap Thrill” mixes an ’80s brat-punk vibe with the 21st century’s detached irony for a sound that’s genuinely catchy if not exactly different. “See Through You” is notable mostly for its pseudo-unhinged guitar riff, and live, the band plays with its structure so much they seem to lose track of the actual song. But any attempt at originality, no matter how half-assed should count for a few bonus points, and here you have no choice but to grade on a curve.

In another, more accurate way, Sally Thieves were the winners. Sounds of Summer continues weekly, pitting three bands against one another every Saturday, and culminating in a performance by the grand-prize winners on August 28.

Saturday, June 13
Sunset Station
1174 E. Commerce

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