MTV's third-annual Musical March Madness tournament tipped off Monday, with voting opening in all first-round matchups.
But with a bracket busting with bands — 64 in all, each battling to hoist the championship trophy when the tournament ends April 3 — we realize that choosing your favorites in each contest can be a daunting task (unless your favorite happens to be Tokio Hotel — they're having no problem racking up the votes). After all, sometimes even the selection committee has a difficult time distinguishing between AWOLNATION and Five Finger Death Punch.
So with first-round voting open until Sunday (polls close at midnight ET), we're going to spend the next few days breaking down each Musical March Madness region, starting with the mighty, meaty Midwest, a bracket loaded with meat-and-potatoes rock acts ... and, uh, Bon Iver, too. Can the top-seeded Black Keys run the table? Will MMM superpowers My Chemical Romance continue their tradition of deep tournament runs? Or, like last year, will the Midwest go to an upset-minded underdog, like Chevelle or Sum 41? Read on for our picks in each opening-round tilt.
#1 The Black Keys vs. #16 AWOLNATION: On the surface, the Keys should win this one with ease. Then again, as any MMM historian will surely tell you, the three-year history of the tournament is littered with jaw-dropping upsets (like #16 the Hold Steady knocking off #1 Nickelback in 2010, or 16th-seeded Sum 41 dumping #1 Arcade Fire last year). Still, with so much momentum — back-to-back breakout albums, a sold-out arena U.S. arena tour — we like Auerbach and Carney over a very game Aaron Bruno.
#2 Bon Iver vs. #15 Sum 41: The pride of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, faces off against the pride of Ajax, Ontario, in this opening-round barn-burner. Bon Iver was a surprise second seed in the Midwest (geography was a determining factor, as always), while one could argue that, based on last year's MMM run alone, Sum 41 should be way higher than a 15 seed. Bad news for the bearded one, we're taking tourney-tested Sum 41 for the upset.
#3 Pearl Jam vs. #14 Five Finger Death Punch: It's rock legends versus fast-rising, faster-playing metallers here, and though Pearl Jam currently hold a rather-sizeable lead so far, we're not writing off Five Finger Death Punch just yet. Hard-rock bands tend to do surprisingly well in MMM (they're fans vote equally hard), which is why, we think by week's end, it'll be the Death Punch who roll to round two.
#4 U2 vs. #13 Modest Mouse: Last year, U2 were a surprise early exit, losing to eventual champs Green Day in round two, while Modest Mouse have never made it out of the first round of the tourney. Based on that alone, we're taking Bono and Co. here, though, after one day of voting, this one is still pretty close.
#5 My Chemical Romance vs. #12 Death Cab for Cutie: MCR are the only band in MMM history to make the Final Four twice, including a heartbreaking championship-game loss to Coheed and Cambria in 2010. Death Cab? Uh, yeah ... they've been to the second round. Once. This one won't even be close: MCR are going far in this tourney.
#6 Kid Rock vs. #11 Chevelle: It's Michigan versus Illinois in this first-round barnburner, which could have been an actual NCAA tournament matchup if Illinois didn't suck so bad this year. Kid Rock has been getting in touch with his Seger side in recent years, while Chevelle roared back in 2011 with the (actually pretty great) Hats Off to the Bull, and so far, it's the rockers who hold a commanding lead over the Kid. Can they hold on? We'll say they do, and advance to the second round.
#7 Metallica vs. #10 Guns N' Roses: A true clash of the titans, this one could go either way (though it hopefully won't end like the pair's 1992 Montreal show did, with both James Hetfield and the city set on fire). Understandably, this one is currently the closest matchup in the entire tournament, with the Gunners holding a .02 percent edge. There's a whole week still to go, but this one might be too close to call.
#8 Nickelback vs. #9 Rise Against!: A total style clash in every conceivable way, Rise Against! jumped out to an early lead, but thanks to some feverish tweeting, Nickelback have swung things in their favor. It's still close, but we think Kroeger and Co. pull it out — if only because we suspect a Black Keys/Nickelback second-rounder will be, uh, interesting.
MTV's 2012 Musical March Madness Tournament is underway! Voting in the first round runs until midnight ET on Sunday, March 18, and winners are determined by fan votes, so if your favorite act made the cut, it'll be up to you to guide them to glory. You can rally the troops on Twitter using the hashtag #MMM or by downloading one of our custom badges — but get ready, it's gonna be a war.