Welcome back to Milam's March Madness!
We've already cut the field down to 32 in our quest to find the Greatest Band on Earth. Round 2 starts here and now...
(***NOTE that the iMeem player to the right has a playlist for the Round 2 matchups. It will be updated daily with all the bands from each region.)
1) U2 vs. 9) Sigur Ros
Battle: In a hotly-anticipated battle of pop juggernauts vs. critical darlings, many wondered how U2 would respond to the dense and impressive Sigur Ros live show. Some anticipated an uneven set with a large(r than usual) quantity of intersong Bonologues. But U2 is, ultimately, much smarter than that. They came out and let the songs do their heavy lifting as Bono's stage histrionics ratcheted up to "11," a cross between Springsteen, Christ, and a coked-out leprechaun. Of course, even the hooded-kids-in-the-back were won over...because he waded through the crowd and sang 3 inches from their face. For all the wonderful avante garde music that flirts with pop success, there's no substitution for a great pop song by a credible band. Or a twenty years' worth of them.
5) Queens of the Stone Age vs. 4) Sonic Youth
Battle: If this tournament set out to name the Greatest Live Band on earth, Sonic Youth would be a very tough out. On record, their idiosyncrasy, unpredictability, and risktaking has led to inconsistent (but overall great) work. But live, all of those idiosyncrasies and unpredictability translates into a thrilling live show. The lack of conventional "pop" material matters less, because the band is so thrilling to see. Unfortunately, the Queens are a tough matchup. They're just as heavy, would "rock" just as much live, are every bit as credible, but have replaced sonic experimentation with heavy metal pop. And as much as I admire Sonic Youth, Songs for the Deaf is the best record that either band has put out.
Winner: Queens of the Stone Age
3) The Killers vs. 11) The New Pornographers
Battle: If the New Pornographers weren't so darn good with melody, they might be the Arcade Fire. Which is to say, they'd be less fun to hear, but more critically acclaimed. Instead, they are a smart and endlessly weird (think if Michael Stipe's lyrics were even more whimsical, bizarre, and obtuse) rock band that is impossible not to like. They're also incapable (right now, anyway) of doing bad work. Some songs are better than others, but nothing's a throwaway. The Killers are arguably the biggest band to emerge over the last five years. They are less "artistic" but more ambitious, less smart but more talented. In three (and a half) albums they've had every hit and miss imaginable, with their most recent release being the biggest misfire. Ultimately, The Killers are a bigger and better band because they're bigger and seek to be better. Sometimes they succeed, and sometimes they fail, but the successes rise much, much higher.
Winner: The Killers
2) My Morning Jacket vs. 7) MGMT
Battle: There's a chance--a reasonable one at that--that MGMT could become an elite band. 2008's Oracular Spectacular was a wake-up call, and arguably had the year's definitive hit. They have everyone's attention, finding themselves in a place MMJ occupied not so long ago (after their major-label debut and artistic breakthrough It Still Moves). Of course, MMJ has since become an elite band. Give the kids some time; they're just not there yet.
Winner: My Morning Jacket
Sweet 16 Matchups (ON MONDAY):
5) Queens of the Stone Age
3) The Killers
2) My Morning Jacket
--Prognosticators might project a U2 blowout of Queens next week, but they don't know me well enough. QOTSA's Songs for the Deaf is on the short list of Things I Value to a Disproportionate Level (ice cream, wide receivers from Florida, sundresses, and dogs are also on that list). It'll get interesting.
--More interesting is the MMJ/Killers matchup, which pairs the two biggest/best American rock bands to emerge in the last few years. What's more, the question of "which do you think is better" might be a definitive question among a younger generation of music fans. Practically everyone my age will fall into one of two camps, with their choice saying much about who they are, who they want to be, and how they experience music. Which camp are you in?
1) Pearl Jam vs. 8) Lucero
Battle: In a surprise to nobody, Pearl Jam wins this in a walk. If this battle of bands actually happened, Vedder would offer Lucero red wine for the first time in their lives. Crushed by the pressure of the moment, they would each drink a bottle in three minutes and puke for 15 minutes onstage before Ben offers "The War," solo, only to abort it, walk offstage, and offer everyone a hand-written thank-you note later. The thing is, Lucero's a great band. One day, they might even share a stage with Pantheon Bands like Pearl Jam. Maybe open for them. But with the artistic vision Ben has for the band, they need some mainstream success before they can take it to the next level. Sometimes you need to get bigger to get even better.
Winner: Pearl Jam
4) Kings of Leon vs. 5) Wilco
Battle: In a classic case of getting bigger to get better, take Kings of Leon. Their first three years as a band (when they were a promising, and solid, and interesting band but not yet great), they were already opening for U2, Dylan, and Pearl Jam, soaking up influences like a sponge and shaping their own ambition. Putting them in the context of greatness, they suddenly became great. Their most recent record is their best, and their biggest, and their audience has grown exponentially. Of course, Wilco's hugely popular and lousy with arthouse cred. Both bands are successful and relevent. And while it's easy to dismiss KOL as Southern rock's tigerbeat prettyboys and Wilco as its "true artists," it's not accurate. This result might've been different in 2003, but "Use Somebody" alone is as smart, and deliberate, and interesting, and infectious as anything Wilco's done.
Winner: Kings of Leon
3) Red Hot Chili Peppers vs. 6) Black Crowes
Battle: The issue here is that neither band has done any great work recently. Both were giants at their best and still mattered at their worst, but lately both sound like aging bands that are simply past their creative prime, steadily releasing self-parodying singles that old fans will like and new fans won't hear. So, who's been great the most recently? You'd need to go back 5-8 years to the Chili's Californiacation and By the Way to find inspired greatness and a fresh voice from either band.
Winner: Red Hot Chili Peppers
2) REM vs. 7) Black Keys
Battle: There's something about REM that makes everyone else sound...immature. Listen to "Nightswimming," or "Losing My Religion" or "Electrolite" or anything, really, and other contemporary rock quickly sounds like kicks banging on their parents' instruments. Maybe it's just the mature timbre of Stipe's voice, maybe it's their measured songwriting, their unparalleled gift for melodic invention, their ability over three decades to always find something new to say, and an enjoyable way to say it. It's a shame, because they can make even terrific bands like the Black Keys sound like a terminal opening act.
Sweet 16 Matchups (ON MONDAY):
1) Pearl Jam
4) Kings of Leon
3) Red Hot Chili Peppers
--Once again, the selection committee proves prophetic as all top seeds advance. How are they doing this? I call foul play.
--Pearl Jam reunites with their old opening act, but this time have the students...become the MASTER?!? DUM-DUM-DUM.
--REM vs. RHCP won't just be a battle of convenient acronyms for lazy typers, it'll be a battle of two Hall of Famers. While RHCP win the popularity contest (which I give a great deal of weight to), REM's never far behind, and most would say they've "achieved more" as a band over their careers, and most recently. Who do you like in this one? I'm curious.
Agree? Disagree? Hit up the comments and join the debate!
Round 2 for the West and International Region tomorrow...