Playing for a divided and deeply partisan crowd, as well as a judging panel of music critics and bigwigs, in front of a 40-foot-high video screen in the arena-like setting of the EMP Sky Church—it's hard to imagine a more daunting test of a young band's potential than Experience Music Project's yearly megabattle of the bands, Sound Off! Things will get pretty intense, as they usually do, when 16 young local bands battle it out at three semifinals this February 14, 21, and 28, with the winners advancing to the March finale, following in the footsteps of past competition participants, Schoolyard Heroes, Mon Frere, the Globes, and New Faces. The Eastside in me is rooting for the pop-punk boys from Issaquah, Schoolboy Gutbuster, a trio of young gentlemen who sing simple songs about girls, dogs, and the subtleties of teenage life—but it would be foolish to deny that they're up against some strong competition. Mount Vernon garage-rock duo the Mission Orange enter the ring stripped down to nothing but a nasty guitar sound, tight drumming, and a heavyweight aural display reminiscent of Seattle's glory days of grunge. The band will tear a sonic chasm in the ceiling of the Greenhouse's tiny basement this Friday, January 16, providing a sneak preview of a young band primed to wreck some ears in February and potentially take home the big prize come March. (For more information about Sound Off! including a full lineup and schedule, visit www.empsfm.org/programs.) recommended

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All-Ages Calendar

Thurs Jan 15: Ruth Allison, Spencer Kingman at New Crompton, 7:30 pm, $5.

Fri Jan 16: Wolves in the Throne Room, Snuggle, Flexions, Death Raid, Son Skull, Slay the Demon Inside, King Row, Titanium Sporkestra at the Underground Events Center, 7 pm, $5.

Fri Jan 16: Monarch, Jon William Johnson, Aurora, Sight vs. Sound at KTUB, 7:30 pm, $6.

Fri Jan 16: PWRFL Power, the Oregon Donor, the Mission Orange, the Braille Tapes, Kids and Animals at the Greenhouse, 7 pm, $5.

Support The Stranger

Fri Jan 16: Hoquiam; Husbands, Love Your Wives; Grand Hallway at Q Cafe, 9 pm, $7.

Tues Jan 20: Devon Williams at the Vera Project, 7:30 pm, $6 ($5 w/club card).