Concert Announcement - Los Campesinos!

You may or may not be able to tell because the exclamation point was built into the headline, but boy oh boy am I glad I woke up to this. Los Campesinos!, whose new album is a titan of a grower, whose other albums need far less time warming up to, whose live show is paralleled by few, whose female members are as attractive as they come, are coming to Madison's Majestic Theatre April 29.

This is, of course, very conflicting news for me, a staunch opponent to the Majestic's shoddy service, crappy sound and innate ability to draw nothing but dickheads to their shows, but this isn't the kind of show to pick and choose venues for. I'll post more when my ride to work isn't parked outside, but for now mark yr calendars. What a time to be alive!

Lazy weekend

Not much in the way of live music this weekend thanks to Cold Cave canceling their show. Still, Justin Townes Earle and Joe Pug are playing High Noon Friday, and Saturday you could see the Minnesota-native all-girl pop-punk band Sick of Sarah (who claim their "influences range from Joan Jett to Vanessa Carlton") at der Rathskeller... Or you could go see "Police, Adjective" at the Play Circle, if you wanted. Or, if you're looking for something especially fun, check out the "Apple Pie" exhibit at the modern art museum, about which Anthony Cefali and Dan Sullivan wrote very highly. Beauty.

Something to look forward to, though, is the Sandwitches at ProLo Monday. I'm not going, but I'm sure some other people are. Should be good.

I've got a lot of homework to do this weekend, so don't be surprised to see something up here about Beck and his new Record Club outing—among other things—soon. Ish. But until then, get yr hands on the newly leaked Javelin album, No Mas. So hot so hot.

City hall's new bffs

I don't have the energy nor the interest to get too worked up over this, but it doesn't seem to make much sense: Madison politicians are lobbying to adopt Wilco as honorary citizens.

Maybe it's like they say, and Madison's just trying not to be out-cooled by Duluth. Maybe they're attempting to become more hip, trying to align themselves with Portland or Austin to lure in more progressive students; but once hip-ness enters government it ceases to be all that hip (I'll tackle gentrification soon enough). And Wilco's an interesting choice. Part of their appeal is their Chicago roots. Sure, their latest cover art was shot in Milwaukee and Jeff Tweedy's thrown out the first pitch in Miller Park, but he's also sung the National Anthem at Wrigley Field and played more benefits and regular shows in Chicago than any other city nationwide. When Conan O'Brien filmed a week of shows in Chicago, he picked Wilco to headline it. Nearly all geographic reference points in their songs are Chicago. Detaching them from Chicago detaches their base; and maybe Wilco's stretched broad enough to encompass America writ large, but that would make them even less qualified for the distinction.

If they'd been looking to establish hip-ness, they could have welcomed Okkervil River, who at least mention Crystal Corner Bar in "Girl in Port," but no dice (maybe they were as underwhelmed by their latest as I was). Or maybe Scott Van Pelt, who repeatedly refers to Madison as the best college town, mentions Wando's bacon night in Badger highlights, spoke at a graduation, but is still no resident to the town. It doesn't matter how important Madison is to you, it matters how important you are to Madison. Or something.

But even so, Wilco seems to be losing their favor with the younger demographic; and while it may be indicative of a hip-er adult presence, it speaks little to the hip-ness of a student body that would embrace a past-their-prime alt-country-gone-adult contempo group. City hall would be much better off fostering the existent-yet-undercover local scene (I'll get to that later, too) instead of importing one it can't support (Wilco would sell out James Madison Park, almost guaranteed). It's city hall trying too hard to fit in. Or maybe, like Pitchfork alluded, it's city hall flexing their muscles to get a personalized autograph from their favorite band (and getting mentioned on Pitchfork—how hip). Or, maybe it's city hall flexing their muscles to increase revenue (what other band exclusively plays the Overture Center?). But unless that's true and there's an actual political agenda at play, there isn't much news to this. Or at least none that interests me.

Heat Check — Caribou

I know I'm late on this, and sure, it's pretty redundant pointing people toward a band everyone's been fully aware of since at least 2007, but this—the first single from their forthcoming follow-up, Swim—is worth taking special note of.

Before Woods, Real Estate and the like were blurring the lines between psychedelia and sloppy folk, Caribou's Andorra set the gold standard for rough (albeit summery, clean and new) folk music framed in psychedelic terms. But while their genre seems to be reaching a prominence with the glutton of lo-fi folksters out there nowadays, Caribou seem headed in another direction. On "Odessa," they bring the bass to the front and gloss over their folksy production, creating a subtle romp that shows no signs of wearing down. Swim drops April 19, and you can download an mp3 of "Odessa" from the band for the small price of an e-mail address here.

[I'm not entirely convinced (it could just be a little girl in a hood, idk), but chances are this video is NSFW]

Old men and young rock

The podcast is taking a sick day this week, so all of you can have that half hour for stuff that matters, I guess. Despite Cold Cave's last-minute cancellation, the week ahead still holds a few gems, including a pretty compelling situation Wednesday night when Alec Ounsworth at High Noon, the Post-Racial Comedy Tour and preparing for a poli sci presentation all vie for my attention.

But I'm actually here to talk about something else—Ted Leo. After Living With the Living came out in 2007 and in anticipation of his latest, the newly leaked The Brutalist Bricks, it's time to revisit the old man and figure out why his last two records (I give Shake the Sheets the benefit of the doubt) have been so awful.

Olde Jake Victor made the interesting point that Leo had, what, 31 years to write Tyranny of Distance. Jonathan Richman had some 26 years to write Modern Lovers, and his career trajectory is flatter yet. Same story, different player. And while Hearts of Oak is arguably better than his debut, Leo hasn't written anything on par with either of those since. He might have just run out of ideas, and it'll take him another 30 years to come up with more.

But another idea that I'm mostly hung up on is that Ted Leo was never actually a punk rocker. His former band, Chisel, played pretty deliberate punk rock, but it had about the same success as his new stuff. Tyranny of Distance and Hearts of Oak weren't punk masterpieces, but they came from similar roots (routes?). Leo covered Stiff Little Fingers, sure, but he wrote about rude boys. He played ska songs cloaked in his Irish heritage; which is to say, loud, fast and soaked in beer. But his songs aren't as angular anymore, and the linear riff structures lack the mobility of his songs of yore. He doesn't sound like the youthful voice he was, but the strained, old man he is. Where his songs used to have legs, they now have wheels. It's as if he no longer writes with the same joy and enthusiasm, dragging himself through the legwork instead of plunging into his passions.

His career should be compared to Robert Pollard or Elvis Costello, not Jonathan Richman. But Leo's not nearly as prolific as either of those two, and that's where we return to the 30-year gestation period.

I'm willing to live with political lyrics, but when his messages are as straightforward and played-out as his riffs it's unnerving, and confounds his problems. I don't mind be bludgeoned over the head by music, but it needs to come from an innovative or at least fresh perspective for me to care about it. No work of art is void of value, but a lot of art fails to progress or assert anything. And when it comes to rock 'n' roll, standing still is one of the most vexing things you can do.

Over the forest and into the weekend

This weekend crept up on me. First, you can check out my new article at the Cardinal. It is, in a word, weak. But it's about Art Brut's frontman, and the headline is a pretty subtle quip. There's nothing I love if not subtlety.

The main show around town this weekend is Title Tracks at der Rathskeller tonight. Title Tracks is the new(ish) group by Q and Not U's drummer. I haven't heard them, but supposedly they play pop music. The only time I saw Q and Not U, they opened for Interpol, ended their set with looped distortion and got booed off the stage. Needless to say, I'll be there tonight.

I'm also making sure to check out the "Automata: Contemporary Mechanical Sculpture" gallery this afternoon. The Cardinal's review didn't tell me much, so now I'm left to see it myself. *Shrug*

And lastly, the new Frightened Rabbit, The Winter of Mixed Drinks, leaked. You couldn't do much better than to grab it for yourself.

Normalizing chaos, saving the world

Sorry I've been gone so long. It's been a busy, busy week, and it's still getting busier. Expect a long-ish piece on Ted Leo soon, but for now just chew on this.

A good friend of mine recently posited a thermodynamic theory to me (the second law? I don't know). For anyone who knows anything about science it's probably rather basic, but for a liberal arts man like myself it was pretty groundbreaking. The theory, as I remember it, suggests that the universe is in a natural flight toward chaos. The example given to me is to think of a piece of wood. We burn it for heat, and the wood is gone. Of course, the Law of Conservation rules that the wood is not gone, rather transferred to heat. For our purposes, though, the wood is useless. We'll never get that back.

But the kicker is that it is man's inclination to try to organize this chaos. At his onset, man relied on nothing but solar energy. But as technology progressed we allowed ourselves to transcend its supply, and now we have such luxuries as nuclear energy to provide for us. Of course, technology allowed us to surpass solar energy's affordance, and now we deal with overpopulation. With nuclear energy came easy, affordable living, but also came nuclear bombs, nuclear wars, and the current crises we refer to as our politics. We keep supplanting our problems with bigger ones, and eventually we're going to run out of solutions. Cool, right?

So naturally I broke this down into how it translates to music.

I've written before (and undoubtedly will again) about a developing divergence in the scope of music history: The pattern either regresses back to a re-imagined beginning (think TV on the Radio, Yeasayer's latest), or launches itself into digital expansion (namely Animal Collective).

But for these purposes it's better to view the two as either a post-modern regression to democracy (TVOTR) or a more natural embodiment of anarchy (note: I'm differentiating here between the organic features of a re-created tribalism and the natural features of a sonic expansion a la Animal Collective. That is, the course of events that have happened organically and those that would naturally follow in linear history).

In the beginning, Animal Collective did embody chaos. Their early material (which I suppose means anything pre-Merriweather) sounded painful, like Avey Tare was ripping the lyrics from his throat and their PA system broke before the recording but decided to leave the grating distortion and feedback in for kicks. That was chaos, that was the burning wood. That stuff, those noises, they were unusable goods. And that's what makes Animal Collective's early material so mesmerizing: the fact that out of all that hellish noise and distortion they were able to locate and synthesize parts of pop music. They found a way to organize the un-organizable, displacing our chaos to another level.

And don't be mistaken: It all comes back to pop music. No Age (who admittedly are much less a 'noise' band than they were several years ago) have no qualms admitting their affinity for pop music. What saves noise is its ability to create melody, or even purpose, from destruction. That's what differentiates a noise band from plain white noise.

But the problem we run into now is that bands lose sight of the end-game. They hear Strawberry Jam as the gestation of something new, not the apocalypse it truly is. The xx are the immediate example, and partially the reason for this post. No, I won't make the claim they sound anything like Animal Collective (though I suppose I could. I mean, who doesn't these days?), but they use the same spacey sounds and minimalist drub without the earthly disorder to lead it anywhere. There is nowhere to go from here because the sound is detached from its roots. Animal Collective was the apocalypse, but the xx is the end (same effect, but there's no brilliant explosion from which to draw something new).

And so it goes all over the place. There are countless Crystal Castles and xx off-shoots that write distortion-heavy pop, but are ultimately limited by their means. They use the tools (again, I mean the distortion, sound effects, etc.), but don't start from the same state of chaos that gives Animal Collective its solid ground. It sounds oxymoronic, but without the chaos there is no order. When we lose sight of the disorder and tumult that drove our predecessors to this point, we lose sight of how to rectify our plight (Think of the mid-'90s pop-punk scene. Worthwhile efforts by a young Green Day, NOFX, Rancid, what have you, were ruined by pansies—I'm looking at you, Good Charlotte and Simple Plan—who wore the same clothes, used the same guitars, but wrote sappy emo songs that lacked the ruffian chaos that drove them there). We run out of wood so we burn plastic for heat. And without getting overly dramatic, that plastic (the disingenuous novelty of misled bands) poisons us. And that does not bode well for indie music. Whatever that means, anyways.

Of course, it's never as cataclysmic as it sounds. Rock 'n' Roll and hip hop have been in this state for years, and they still stumble across worthwhile acts. But the success rate is much lower and they don't undergo the same kinds of paradigmatic shifts they used to. Everything starts to sound the same, and before you know it we'll be looking for something new to solve our problems. They're a lot bigger now than they once were.

Lady Pop

Rent's due, and that can only mean one thing: February mixtape.

This month I present Lady Pop, a mixtape made by ladies for ladies (featuring very special guests Beck, Conor Oberst and that guy from First Rate People).

Cat Power - "Love and Communication"
Land of Talk - "Some Are Lakes"
Tune-Yards - "Sunlight"
Micachu & the Shapes - "Worst Bastard"
Charlotte Gainsbourg - "Heaven Can Wait" (feat. Beck)
Gillian Welch - "Lua" (feat. Conor Oberst)
Camera Obscura - "Forests and Sands"
Beach House - "Heart of Chambers"
jj - "Things Will Never Be the Same Again"
Best Coast - "Sun Was High (So Was I)"
Cold Cave - "Life Magazine"
Pearl Harbor - "Sunburn"
Warpaint - "Billie Holiday"
First Rate People - "Girls' Night"

Snatch yr copy here.

Paying interest

At one point in this video by the upstart pop outfit Diamond Rings (the same one responsible for that quaint pop masterpiece "All Yr Songs"), singer/songwriter John O takes a bat to a baseball-shaped pinata, only to discover that it's empty on the inside. It's a deflating nothingness that exposes a metaphor for materialized gimmickry. Later in the same segment he tosses a Michael Jordan cardboard cut-out into a crowd surf.

It's an interesting case of post-modern influencing (which I suppose is just called pop art), championing iconic aesthetics for the ideas they purvey, not the stars they represent. We (intentionally or not) place a lot of hidden meaning behind recurring images, and when we remove the background relevance we're left to ponder how resonant our cultural memes can be. If an alien were dropped in the middle of Times Square, what impression would he (it?) relay to the tribe (colony?)? Or, hundreds of years from now which social studies texts will reference which television ads?

Jordan is already often referred to in degrees of past tense, and however celebrated he is as an athlete, his impact writ large is as a promoter, the charismatic role model we idealized him to be. But his Hall of Fame induction speech exposed a more bitter core, his repeated ill-conceived comeback attempts an insufferable ego. In the Internet age, not even Jordan is granted a facade. Kobe Bryant had marriage issues, Seth Rogen was caught being rude to fans, Britney Spears walked into a gas station restroom barefoot; but however much we rob superstars of their right to personal lives, the tragedy is that we rob ourselves of the right to heroes. John O doesn't hoist a living person, one with insecurities and flaws, but an image, a label, and most of all an idea, a perfectly-formulated aesthetic that can remove us from the insufficiencies of real-life characters. It's something we don't see anymore, unfortunately linked with other archaic mediums like the cassette tape that induces the video's dance-party send-off.

But from an artistic standpoint it's also a tedious balance to strike. It's hard to reference something with built-in significance because your use is relatively pre-determined, limited to the scope of influence of the items you employ. The more resonant the images you use, the more resonant the message you give; but the most resonant images are often not malleable enough to craft something new. The bottom line is about the same place as Jet, those Australian kooks who couldn't seem to write an original song without plagiarizing four or five others. It's one thing to wear your influence on your sleeve (Cymbals Eat Guitars and Surfer Blood the most prominent, recent examples), but it's a whole other to let someone else's art stream through your mouth.

At another sequence in the video, John O takes off with a basketball toward the hoop, immediately evoking a similar montage in which Jordan dunks in "Space Jam." But when he gets to the rim, O doesn't dunk, he tosses up a left-handed reverse lay-up. And that seems to be the key to this whole charade. Recycled fragments from pop culture are only one step removed from the trash heap, and unless the stylistic mash-up instills a unique message or narrative into the piece there's nothing to justify its resurrection. Diamond Rings takes liberally from the pop dumpster, but so long as he sticks to lay-ups he seems unlikely to become the empty pinata on the ground.

Trees falling on deaf ears

Sorry I missed out on this weekend, but it was my birthday and I didn't think too much was going on (though apparently I was wrong: word on the street is I missed quite a show by Dawes at der Rathskeller Saturday night).

Without sounding too self-righteous or self-promotive, my old co-editor at the Cardinal, Kevin Slane, and I have a new podcast up. We refer to it as a "popcast," though I'm suspicious we might be breaching some sort of copyright in doing so. At the risk of drawing ire from our esteemed colleague Dan Sullivan, we spoke at length about 3D films (which Anthony Cefali will have you know is actually 4D; tune in to find out why), as well as the state of Pixar and visually enhanced cinema in general. We also decide which Disney princess we'd most like to take on a date, though Valentine's Day is old news by now. And as much as I'd like to cast all the blame for the Disney soundtrack on Kevin, I can't. We win as a team and we lose as a team.

And the best news of the entire week:
Somebody answered the call: Titus Andronicus at the Project Lodge Apr. 6. Here's to hoping it stays there, too.

Mic Check — Parenthetical Girls

The first time I heard Parenthetical Girls, I immediately e-mailed their MySpace page to a lady friend of mine, adding, "You'll love this. They sound just like 'Aladdin.'" I guess I stand by that. Androgynous frontman Zac Pennington belts his vocals as wide-grinned as Princess Jasmine, but the backing instruments expose the bleak pragmatism that coats his olde tyme wit.

The first chords of "Evelyn Mchale" evoke Okkervil River's "Lost Coastlines," and I suppose Will Sheff isn't a bad reference point for Pennington. Pennington's less bookish and less idealistic, but he boasts his hyper literacy with the same off-handed, breezy nature as Sheff. Overall, though, Pennington's melodrama adds a theatricality that Sheff whiffed at on The Stand Ins.

Parenthetical Girls' latest venture is an real doozy. They're recording five different EPs, releasing each as it's completed. Each EP will focus the lens of one of the five band members, and the fifth will include a commemorative box with space to hold the preceding four. And what's more—Each EP will see a limited release of 500 mail-order only 12" vinyls, individually numbered with the blood of the corresponding member. Assumedly it will have dried by the time it gets to your door.

The first EP (chapter?), Privilege, suggests this bloodshed is as apparent metaphorically as it is physically (poor writer cop-out alert, sorry). Pennington regresses chatter-pop to antiquity, synthesizing the kinds of minimalist orchestral grandeur that makes the Decemberists look like little more than overzealous slaves to pop glory.

There's no future

I just did a whle lot of dishes.

To revisit some of the past few posts:

Small Black's EP came out less than a year ago, so waiting until later this year to release the follow-up LP makes perfect sense. But the only thing more striking than that the LP was already completed was that my immediate response was to wonder why they would wait so long to release it. Technology has had such an impact on the immediacy of music that sitting on a completed album seems foolish (though it probably happens all the time without our knowing). Bands get shuffled through like cards, and the longer one stays out of the blogosphere the less willing most of us are to remember they exist.

Japandroids have a different story, though. Months before Post-Nothing hit the shelves, it hit their Facebook page for free. It was hard to find a leak of the album because it was so easy to make one for yourself, and with the band's permission no less. And now, less than 13 months after Post-Nothing was actually released, they're sending out a series of b-sides while they tour, as if they owe us more constant output. The press release was almost apologetic that they weren't going to be able to record another album until they were done touring.

But it's near impossible for a band (especially one so young and without a built-in audience) to make a living in the recording studio anymore, and nobody (to my knowledge) has embraced that fact more openly. The pay-what-you-want scheme made waves in that it erased the middle man and offered an alternative to listeners unwilling to pay inflated CD prices but were still supportive of the music. But pay-what-you-want quickly becomes pay-nothing when you stockpile albums the way most of us do, and here JPNDRDS seem to have hit upon a business model that would not only promote band profit, but perpetuate that profit by staying relevant. Additionally this model could, ironically, save the album as an artform.

Instead of waiting for a 10-year-anniversary deluxe reissue series, release the non-album tracks now. More often than not, songs miss the cut because they don't fit in the album's flow, not because they're any less accomplished or noteworthy (as seems to be the case with "Art Czars"). And where the Internet and MTV have tag-teamed music to a world dominated by videos and singles, these non-album tracks fit right in.

Not everyone will pay for the 7" (I did, at least this time), but just about everyone will listen. So while bands are making money on the road, they stay fresh and relevant in our ears until they're ready to sit down and record a proper full-length. Girls have done a lot of this since their Album dropped last summer, and people are still talking about them. Each new quality track keeps the album from going stale while they bide their time for another release, oftentimes making the money to make said release possible.

Very few bands are willing to "settle for our utter disdain," and likewise very few are willing to record the kind of monstrous wonder Titus Andronicus did on The Monitor. But if bands consistently release a bunch of miscellaneous songs while on the road, they'll naturally attempt to set their full-length apart, by making it an album, even if not a 2xLP concept album about the Civil War.

But this still requires bands to make their money on the road, and in this way it separates the chuck from the steak. The common denominator is performance, and bands will have to be both consistent and talented for this model to work. But in an ideal world, that's how it's always been. And for what it's worth, I wouldn't be writing about JPNDRDS or Small Black if I didn't think they qualified.

JPNDRDS single

Garage-rock superheroes Japandroids announced a series of five singles to be released this year, each 7" vinyl pairing a non-album track from their Post-Nothing sessions with a cover. The first, to be released in early April, pairs a cover of Big Black's "Racer X" with another anthemic ode to punk rock and, like, girls, "Art Czars." Early standout quote: "I'm really sorry if you're still believing / They suck in angels but they spit out demons."

You can stream it courtesy Pitchfork here, and you can pre-order the 7" via Polyvinyl here. And, in the spirit of ruining surprises, you can hear a live cut of their "Racer X" cover (as well as "Rockers East Vancouver," beauty) on Daytrotter.

Update: Just remembered JPNDRDS covered McClusky's "To Hell With Good Intentions" at their show at the High Noon. That was on their All Lies EP, though, and I kind of doubt they would just re-release that. What other covers could there be? Hüsker Dü and the Minutemen are my immediate thoughts.

Small Black on Jagjaguwar

Jagjaguwar just announced that they've signed Small Black. The label will release a "remixed, remastered and expanded version of theSmall Black EP" April 27, and tentatively have the band's already-completed follow-up LP ready by the end of the year. Which is awesome news because Small Black rules.

They're going on tour in March and will stop by Chicago, but miss Madison by a few hundred miles.

In somewhat related news, Titus Andronicus will also be skipping out on Madison on their upcoming tour, though they have an open date in April on which they'll be driving from Minneapolis to Chicago. Someone holler at WUD Music.

Heat Check — Local Natives

I first saw Local Natives in a stuffy attic this past summer as part of Daytrotter's Barnstormer Tour. I spent a good amount of time after the set talking to the singer/keyboardist, and it felt almost redundant meeting him. Hailing from the home of the most dominant forms of distorted haze, noise and chill-wave, the band's sound is both clean and nice. They're Belle & Sebastian revivalists for the post-Vampire Weekend era. Or, they're a band you can take home to your grandma but still be entertained by later in the week. I mean, if you were dating.

They complicate Band of Horses' breezy country and make Grizzly Bear pedestrian. In other words, they're like a Grand Archives we can get excited about. Their debut LP, Gorilla Manor, drops next week, and I figure someone at The Daily Cardinal will probably handle writing about it.

(I don't understand why they're booing at the beginning of this song. I know it's a slow piano part, but geeze. From what I can tell it's about a dead grandparent. Give him a break.)

Juiceboxxx mixxxtape

Jake Victor has three albums on his iPod, Tyranny of Distance the only one not recorded in the seventies. He and Emma Roller are the two whitest people I know, so when those two get giddy enough to tweet about a rap album, I've learned to pay attention.

Juiceboxxx raps over some ambitious beats (DMX, Jay-Z and Lil Wayne all included on his production hit-list), but what makes them work is that he makes no attempt to be their successor. He raps honestly, addressing the problems he knows—suburban stagnancy, getting ill and just how low lower middle-class can go—without any distorted misperception of his own position. He doesn't want to inherit any title or throne, he just wants to go to "Discotheques that serve me wine." And that's what prevents him from falling on his face. He doesn't rap better than anyone else, he just raps harder (that is, the kind of 'hard' that's amplified by air horns, not street cred). He's the Andrew W.K. for a different kind of party, even if that party's best received through headphones.

Any Steev Mike can rap hard over some beats though, and what sets Thunder Zone Volume I apart from any number of high schoolers on YouTube is the original beats he got for the tape. Thunder Zone features appearances from both Spank Rock and Ninjasonik, Javelin and Teengirl Fantasy each produce a track and even Carrot Top and Diplo holler at him. This guy's not going to interfere with Freddie Gibbs' takeover, but he should immediately supplant LMFAO and save us all the headache.

You can grab Thunder Zone Volume I for free on his website.


Despite the high scoring, Super Bowl XLIV was pretty quiet. And as much as I'd like to waste your time talking about the value of an offensive coordinator on the Colts or how Sean Payton's supposedly "ballsy" play calling is actually incredibly fruitful (backed up by some of the finest statisticians in the blogosphere), it's worth dwelling on (and more relevant to the purpose of this blog) the halftime entertainment, the Who.

The last time the Super Bowl hired modern acts to perform at halftime, they put a boob on the screen. So from a PR standpoint it makes a lot of sense to keep the training wheels on pop music for a while. And to be fair, it's not like many modern acts could have one-upped the performances of Prince, Springsteen or even Tom Petty, but at some point there has to be a transition. Eventually, the "oldies" will be the "really oldies," and the NFL will be left looking for performers who aren't also health liabilities.

A main factor is agreeability of the acts—the most niche-oriented band to perform at a halftime is probably either No Doubt or ZZ Top. So as great as it would be to see the Hold Steady or Modest Mouse on top of a flourescent island, we're probably stuck with a more VH1-friendly group. But there's no reason to think a band like Wilco or Radiohead couldn't make it. Neither have the universal sing-along choruses or seminal nostalgia attachments, but they seem to have broad enough appeal to keep people tuned in during the downtime. On the other hand, the Flaming Lips seem like a band built for the sole purpose of playing the Super Bowl halftime (if they could ever clean up the mess before the second half, or if Wayne Coyne could ever shut up long enough to actually play some songs).

Of course, the true descendents of halftime glory are likely artists like Alicia Keys and Jay-Z—the future is a place of Disney-produced urban strife, and what better encapsulation than a Rhianna/Chris Brown kiss and make-up performance? Mariah Carey even sounds reasonable.

But this vision is a troubling one in the way it ascribes a culture to the NFL. The NBA re-gained relevance by embracing the culture of its players. In a period of hopeful yet aimless canonizing, Allen Iverson was once heralded the next MJ, and in a big way he was. MJ had transcendental value because he was the greatest to play the game, but his tangible (and reasonably repeatable) relevance was that he made people care about the league. By bringing his tattoos and dreadlocks, Allen Iverson did the same. But the NFL isn't in as bleak of a dark age as the NBA was, and there's no point to exclude fans that are already there.

But after booking bands like the Who and the Rolling Stones, bands almost entirely washed out by gentrification and old age, the NFL has refused to let itself embrace a similar potential. The NFL is the most successful professional league in America right now (if only because they allow playoff games to be held without Joe Buck), and for the time being they don't need to rely on an image to put fans in the seats. But if the talent falls off like the post-MJ NBA experienced, they could be backed into a corner that only Wilco could squeeze them out of. Of course, the Packers are enough proof to suggest that this downward trend is nowhere near us, but it's the kind of thing I think about during the commercial breaks.