By Matt Dolloff (@mattdolloff)
The Patriots are in the Super Bowl to face the Seattle Seahawks, which means two things: 1) This is a matchup of the two best teams in the NFL, and 2) This is a matchup of cities with deep rock and roll roots.
Besides being the birthplace of Jimi Hendrix, Seattle was also the breeding ground for the “grunge” bands that would take over rock radio in the ’90s, let by the “Big 4”: Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Alice in Chains.
What about Boston? While it may not claim as many mainstream rock heavyweights as Seattle, it does have Aerosmith, arguably the most successful band to come out of either city. And Boston may not have an alternative rock band with as much success and prestige as Nirvana, but it certainly has a deep cache of notable alternative bands, including the alt-rock pioneers who helped shape Nirvana’s sound, The Pixies.
With the Pats and Seahawks facing off Sunday, it’s only appropriate for ZLX to pit the very best rock bands from each city against each other to see who would come out on top. Note: This won’t have an outcome on the game. At least I hope not…
Aerosmith vs. Pearl Jam
Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith perform on Day 1 of the Calling Festival at Clapham Common on June 28, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by Ben A. Pruchnie/Getty Images)
Why these two bands? They have some general similarities: they both write hard, direct rock and roll songs with good guitar riffs; they have both ridden that formula to massive success with many hit songs; they are both strongly associated with the cities they formed in; and they are both led by iconic frontmen with magnetic stage presences.
That is mostly where the similarities end, though. While most of Aerosmith’s subject matter is concerned with “sex, drugs and rock & roll,” Eddie Vedder’s lyrics for Pearl Jam are often more politically charged and socially conscious.
Either of these bands could fill an arena with fans who know all the words to every hit, and they are both legendary in their own regard. But in this race, it comes down to longevity. Aerosmith had a 20-plus-year head start and still rocks, while Pearl Jam has yet to catch up. EDGE: Aerosmith
Nirvana vs. The Pixies
Kurt Cobain performs with Nirvana at ‘MTV Unplugged,’ in New York City on November 18, 1993. (Photo by Frank Micelotta/Getty Images)
Nirvana is unquestionably one of the biggest rock bands of all time, and the amount they accomplished in such a relatively brief amount of time is extraordinary. Nevermind deserves to be considered an all-time classic.
But one of the most memorable quotes of Kurt Cobain’s life shows the massive debt the Nirvana frontman felt he owed to the Pixies, who were formed in Boston:
“I was trying to write the ultimate pop song. I was basically trying to rip off the Pixies. I have to admit it. When I heard the Pixies for the first time, I connected with that band so heavily that I should have been in that band—or at least a Pixies cover band. We used their sense of dynamics, being soft and quiet and then loud and hard.”
One listen to the Pixies’ “Where is My Mind” shows you exactly what Kurt’s talking about: they laid out the quiet-loud blueprint for Nirvana to borrow. The Pixies won’t be heard on the radio beyond alternative stations – their sound is too dirty and not nearly accessible enough – but their influence on the waves of alternative rock bands that came after them is undeniably massive.
You can definitively say “There would be no Nirvana without the Pixies.” But Nirvana deserve a massive amount of credit for taking an abrasive, almost antagonistic sound and shaping it into something that can appeal to a widespread audience. The Pixies have had a tremendous influence on alternative rock, but Nirvana had a generational impact on music, pop culture, and the American consciousness. EDGE: Nirvana
Boston vs. Foo Fighters
Dave Grohl performs at Hammerstein Ballroom on February 13, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)
This matchup is sort of like a sequel to Aerosmith and Pearl Jam. Both Boston and the Foo Fighters are hugely successful rock bands with classic hit songs, dynamic frontmen, massive guitars, and hooks on top of hooks.
On the heels of their enormously successful 1976 debut album and classics like “More Than a Feeling” and “Peace of Mind”, Boston could have claimed the title “Biggest Band in the World” that summer. The Foos, meanwhile, steadily grew in popularity starting in the mid-’90s, and by 2008 were headlining Wembley Stadium in front of 80,000 people.
Unfortunately for Boston, their success got derailed by inner turmoil and legal troubles, among other things. The Foos have remained consistent over the course of their career and can still deliver insanely catchy and energetic rock tunes. They have only gotten bigger as their career has gone along. EDGE: Foo Fighters
Alice in Chains vs. Godsmack
Layne Staley of Alice in Chains performs at Lollapalooza ’93 at Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View Calif. on June 23, 1993. (Photo by Frank Micelotta/ImageDirect)
Here’s a matchup that’s pretty similar to Nirvana vs. the Pixies. A successful rock band vs. the band that influenced them. In this case, however, Alice in Chains have actually had plenty of mainstream success.
When Seattle grunge exploded in the early ’90s, AIC were arguably the darkest of the big four bands. But they did as good a job as anyone making ugliness sound accessible. Godsmack emerged from the New England metal scene with a sustained run of bold, aggressive hard rock hits and continue to churn them out. Most importantly, Godsmack frontman Sully Erna has cited AIC frontman Layne Staley as perhaps his biggest influence.
The verdict here is sort of the reverse of Nirvana/Pixies. The more influential band takes this one, for one big reason: Godsmack may be great for rocking out and throwing a heavy metal party, but AIC hits you in the heart & soul in ways that Godsmack never did, and that’s what the very best music does. EDGE: Alice in Chains
Overall Edge: Seattle
Honestly, Jimi Hendrix beats everyone in Boston. Maybe combined? Seattle has such a rich history of successful musicians that I have no choice but to hand them the crown for pure rock & roll, especially when they win three out the four main matchups here. But if we want to talk about alternative, metal, or folk music? Then we have a different story.
And hopefully there’s a different outcome in the Super Bowl.