>Welcome back to Milam’s March Madness! We’re down to the nitty gritty: only eight band remain. Today we’ll determine the East and South winners, and tomorrow we’ll tackle the West and International regions.
If you’re just catching up, click the “Milam’s March Madness” label to see the results so far.
1) U2 vs. 2) My Morning Jacket
Battle: Previewing this matchup last week, I asked whether a band like My Morning Jacket can (or should) compete with a band like U2. If the question is, “who’s doing the most,” doesn’t the bigger band have an insurmountable advantage? If U2’s reaching more people (they are), and they’re doing credible, serious work themselves, then aren’t they “doing more?” I’m inclined to think so. There’s no question that U2 affects more people than My Morning Jacket. For all MMJ’s popularity (New Years concerts at Madison Square Garden, sold out global tours, etc.) they’ve never had a Top 40 hit. Radio might be dead, but these things matter. They point to the final level of success, the glass ceiling of ubiquity. People can avoid MMJ now if they want to. Some people–strange as this sounds–still haven’t heard any of their songs. But nobody can say that for U2.
If all things were equal, and My Morning Jacket were U2’s peers, then this would be the decisive argument. But all things aren’t equal, because one band emerged post-piracy, and one emerged 15 years prior. For all the pro’s that have come from music on the internet (accessibility, a virtually democratic system of consumption, etc.), there is one major downside: the culture is fragmented. Even the best bands to emerge since The Boom (My Morning Jacket) don’t (and probably can’t) have the audience of pre-Boom bands. It’s possible that My Morning Jacket’s relative unpopularity is due only to their timing. It’s entirely possible that this band with this body of work would be as big as U2 (down to the Joshua Tree-It Still Moves and Evil Urges-Achtung Baby comparisons, if you want to take it that far), if anyone could be as big as U2. With that timing gap–the one factor that doesn’t deal with either bands’ work–I can only compare them as bands. I don’t think there’s any doubt that MMJ is a better band right now, releasing stronger records, and unmatched as performers. U2, ultimately, is U2–nobody can touch that. But some mere mortals can still make better music.
Winner: My Morning Jacket
Battle: In preparation for this battle–pitting two of my all-time favorite bands against each other–I faced all the demons of adolescence. I looked for clues in old yearbooks. I burned Lucky jeans from the 5th grade. I called ex-girlfriends:
“Hey __,” I’d say, “I have a question for you.”
“Really,” they’d answer.
“Yeah! Which band would you say meant more to me at the time we dated? Pearl Jam or REM?”
“What?” they’d ask.
“When did we date? What dates specifically did we go out? That might help. I can break this thing down chronologically.”
As many great bands as there were in the 90’s, my Top Tier looked like this (in no order):
Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Radiohead, REM.
If you ask me to compare any of those four to anyone else, I have a starting point. If you ask me to compare them to each other my head caves in and I need a towel. I could go round, and round, and round in circles on this one: Pearl Jam’s arguably got the better body of work, but acknowledge REM as their artistic trailblazers. They’re playing in a house that REM built. If one band’s art produces another’s success, isn’t the indebted band necessarily weaker? Wouldn’t this lead to a Pandora’s Box of who-influenced-who-and-by-how-much questions, ultimately tracking back to a guy in Western Europe with a harp and men in the Southern Hemisphere with drums? By this logic, aren’t the Ramones better than Nirvana? Because that’s an argument I’m not willing to make.
When faced with difficult choices, I usually ask, “which team/band/thing has the single best characteristic?” In other words, if I need to compare two bands and all other things are equal, who has the single best song? This argument is the sole reason Counting Crows even made it past the first round. But Pearl Jam and REM could win this battle against anyone. But how do you weigh “Nothingman” and “Nightswimming” and declare a winner?
You can’t. In fact, comparing their 90’s selves is fruitless. Since this tournament gives more weight to recent work, I can only judge them since 2000. If Pearl Jam hadn’t released Pearl Jam in 2006, that would be yet another mind-numbing dead heat, with PJ probably getting the nod off live performance and business ingenuity (selling high quality bootlegs for every show). As solid as REM’s records have been since 2000, their best work is behind them. Pearl Jam’s self-entitled record proved doubters wrong: they’re still at the top of their game.
Winner: Pearl Jam
*FINAL FOUR MATCHUP* (ON MONDAY!)
2) My Morning Jacket
1) Pearl Jam
–Pearl Jam faces off against another touring companion. This might be the Final Four overall, but it’s the finals for Best Live Band–these are the best two around, and MMJ learned at the feet of the master.
–The generational issues that defined the Jacket/U2 debate persist here; MMJ probably can’t be as big as Pearl Jam. But this battle will be even more interesting, as Pearl Jam’s most recent work trumps U2’s. What do y’all think?
Who do you like in the Final Four? Hit up the comments and join the debate!
Elite 8 for the West and International Region tomorrow…