Today marks the release of a pair of thoroughly modern pieces of popular music for the cool kids. Passion Pit’s second album, the much-hyped Gossamer, arrives following years of anticipation. Then there’s the Antlers’ little 4-track EP, “Undersea.” Both bands were once labelmates on Frenchkiss Records but have since taken decidedly different paths at different labels. Passion Pit has gone to release stuff on Columbia Records, one of the larger major labels still in business. Meanwhile, the Antlers’ new release comes via Anti- Records, their new label. One release could be called sweet but superficial while another is simply sublime.

Gossamer (Support Independent Ethos, purchase the vinyl on Amazon) reeks of preciousness defined by the high-pitched, soaring singing of founder and mastermind Michael Angelakos. It gets old and annoying fast, so there are variations to the vocals throughout, including real female voices and samples. The music is all parsed out beats and bare melodies mostly generated by dinky moments of synthesized squeaks, howls and dings. It’s all bombastic cuteness that wears out with each fade out. Who still puts on the Wannadies’ once smash, self-titled debut for a full listen nowadays? There’s a reason you can find the CD version for a penny on Amazon 15 years later, despite it being out of print. Gossamer will likely end up in the same position in about the same time.

The album opens with the already familiar “Take a Walk.” With its jaunty synth and pounding beat it probably makes for one of the more accessible moments on Gossamer. It gets a bit more nerve-wracking when instruments seem to take split second turns to create the opening for the sample-montage “I’ll Be Alright.” Stings of synth strings, pounding drums and cooing vocals pop up and disappear in bursts that flicker and alternate during a song that crescendos as more layers pile up while Angelakos sings: “Can you remember ever having any thoughts?/Coz when it’s all said and done/I always believe we were … but I’m not so sure.” The flighty nostalgia gives way to an even more saccharine tune. Defined by a cooing synth under a thumping beat that could have been at home on a Debbie Gibson record in the mid-eighties, “Carried Away” sees Angelakos singing a chorus that might as well be “tra-la-la,” which features teen angst lyrics like: “Sorry ’bout things that I’ve said/Or is that again to my will?”

If you can withstand the cuteness further, the album has slower, more soulful moments like “Constant Conversations” and “Cry Like a Ghost.” But by then the vocals, accompanied by the soaring synths over and over grow tiresome.

The music’s light, effervescent quality makes it difficult to give it full attention from start to finish, much less repeated listens. Gossamer arrives on a wave of hype sure to have massive appeal. Like typical sugary treats, consumers might find themselves getting sick of it quick, however. At 12 tracks, it makes for a brief release, but the vinyl version has been spread across two slabs wax on 45 rpm for quality sound. However, as the music is so electronic-reliant, the analog format seems immaterial to the quality of the music. Besides, it’s quite a demand to ask listeners to flip through four sides of such a redundant record. A single vinyl LP would have worked fine. The vinyl also comes with a CD version of the album, so that means only one side to put up with.

Meanwhile, the Antlers further mellow out with its new “Undersea” EP (Support Independent Ethos, purchase the vinyl on Amazon), and the results are gorgeous. The trio from New York layer on the melodies with patience, creating an entrancing quality that lives up to the EP’s title. The music sounds buoyant and weightless. Guitars echo on languid strums and muted horns play melancholy melodies as the band’s frontman Peter Silberman sighs out his vocals that seem immersed in the soothing swells of the music. His vocals are so buried and languid, the words are difficult to make out. No matter, as the record works best as an abstract, impressionist thing that celebrates an immersive experience.

With this four-track EP, the Antlers have created something sublimely ethereal. It opens with “Drift Dive” fading in, sounding like Brian Eno’s “Deep Blue Day,” off his space-ambient masterpiece Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks. Guitars echo and wane. With the flourish of a harp, a spare, melancholy horn appears, slowly falling down a minor key run. Every stroke from the strings to the horns have a genuine, organic variable quality but appear to complement one another rhythmically. It’s a genuine entrancing moment produced in a manner that only real instruments can create. It’s the chaos and symmetry of nature not unlike the ripples in a pool.

The next song, “Endless Ladder,” opens with some soft feedback and soon flows into the beautiful echo of guitars, similar to Storm In Heaven-era Verve. At just over eight minutes long, the song takes its time. Each refrain of the melody during the first two minutes plays with textures of subtle instrumentation. It builds on cooing voices and the whir of a synthesizer. Trickling guitars repeat and reemerge in a pattern not dissimilar to the opener. The song is all entrancing repetition even with Silberman’s voice, which appears at the two-minute mark. He sings hushedly, as if not to disturb the surface of the music.

The second side opens with “Crest.” Featuring an echoing electronic pulse and click track, it feels like the least organic of the songs. The repetition of a whining, muted horn sounds like its part of a loop and Silberman offers vocal accompaniment sooner than in the earlier tracks. There are spare pauses allowing for the quiet strum of a guitar, but it’s the briefest track of the EP and its least calmly built moment. Finally, “Zelda” again features a nice interplay between horns and guitars. Silberman offers a few opening lines of lyrics, but the song mostly drifts into a delicate, instrumental jam that again highlights the Antlers’ guitarcraft but augmented with the echoing din of zipping electronic effects.

“Undersea”  makes for a consistent musical experience from start to finish, and what keeps it interesting is its organic quality thanks to a casual, confident exploration of classic instrumentation via an original, evocative vision.  Though Antlers’ vocalist, like Passion Pit’s, sings into high-pitched flourishes, he never ventures into obnoxious, over-the-top territory, flowing with the music organically and atmospherically. The vinyl looks to be an object to look forward to, as well, pressed on a dark blue (Deep Blue Sea) translucent wax, as revealed by a picture shared by the band via its Facebook page (pictured above).

Hans Morgenstern

Note: Columbia records offered a preview of Gossamer for the purposes of this review.

(Copyright 2012 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

Though we only had a day left at sea on the Weezer Cruise before porting back to reality in Miami, the unreal experience of being on a cruise ship with a handful of a few of the most interesting indie rock bands now and yesterday made the day resonant with promise. This day I made sure to capture a few songs of the live performances on video, as truly, even on the last day, I did not want this cruise to end.

The live shows began with none other than Yuck on the Lido Deck, at 1 in the afternoon. It was a nice sunny day as usual up there, making it easy for my amateur photography skills to capture the action. Though Yuck is a new band, from England no less, I always felt the band fit in nicely among acts like Dinosaur Jr. and Sebadoh (both also on board), as its debut self-titled album of last year recalls the sound of the grungy but perky early nineties college rock scene.

Yuck played twice during the cruise, and though both sets were similar, they were a “can’t miss” act not only for all the buzz that surrounded them, but the simple fact they played well. According to the album’s credits, the band produced the work from a mishmash of bedroom and studio recordings. The distinctive resonating guitar buzz, not to mention a palette of whooshing and whirring effects shone through just as well live as it did on the excellently produced vinyl record. Here are a couple of songs I captured live, with guitarist/singer Daniel Blumberg noting his special connection to the cruise ship and why it was a sort of homecoming to perform on board:

After the show, we had a date for the only activity we signed up for: beer tasting with the members of Boom Bip (Yes, during the cruise there was a trivia show, shuffleboard contest, a Q&A with Weezer, picture sessions with Weezer, but if a cruise can be so damn grand that one can still have a good time as to leave little room for regrets, it goes to show just how great a selection of highlights were away from the main attraction). It turned out the beer tasting was probably the best way to get your fill of drink at an amazing price. For $20 you learned about five different beers and got what seemed like unlimited refills. Paying upwards of $5 for a single beer is for suckers.

Everyone seemed loaded up on beer by the end of it, even our guide, a cruise ship employee from Turkey. We were allowed to straggle as long as we wanted and socialize, as the beer kept coming. I of course had to approach the Boom Bip guys to compliment then on the show I caught, something I already touched on at the top of this post: Weezer Cruise over, back to reality – a recap (Day 2 of 4). As I noted on the second day, Boom Bip were a delightful surprise to see live, as I had not heard of them prior to this cruise. Too bad I never captured any videos. Thankfully MattNorman was on board to record a video of a show I missed a day earlier, here they are in the Criterion Lounge:

Feeling buzzed, we prepared to go see the Antlers next, at 5:30, I went up ahead to the Criterion Lounge, as my wife needed to lie down after all the beer. I grabbed the vinyl record of their new album, Burst Apart, which I brought on board, so I could have the band members sign it (Did I mention what a great piece of quality vinyl it is? Thick, 180 gram weight and super clean sound… Support the Independent Ethos, purchase on Amazon). After their sound check I had a chance to briefly speak with each member, and they were all quite friendly and flattered by my appreciation. As we spoke, I had them sign the record. Here’s what it looks like autographed (they had to focus their scribbles in the center of the album because of the darkness of the ether that surrounds the central path on the cover):

I also met their manager and learned an EP will see release soon. I hope to have an interview with the band or a preview of the EP on this blog around the time of its release.

I found a table off to the right of the stage with a clear view, as the fans on the floor decided to space out to the music seating cross-legged and even lying prone on their backs. The Antlers were clearly a highlight band for us to see on the cruise, and it was awesome to have had the chance to see them three times on board the ship. To be honest, I was unsure just how well the band would translate live and delighted to find them improving on some their songs in a live setting, as noted yesterday (Weezer Cruise over, back to reality – a recap [Day 3 of 4]). Here they are performing one of the lighter tunes on Burst Apart. The video opens with frontman Peter Silberman and keyboardist Darby Cici discussing the cruise for a bit before the start of the song:

The show included similar songs to the band’s prior shows, including another excellent rendition of “Rolled Together,” so I was not complaining.

For the next show, all we had to do was sit tight and chat with our neighbors at the table. Soon enough, Lou Barlow had climbed on stage for his 7 p.m. show. He was very chatty and even had an ongoing conversation with a female fan who lived in his city of Los Angeles. However, what began as appreciative chatter and even dinner plans later on land degenerated throughout the set into awkwardness, as Barlow nervously laughed, muttering “stalker” under his breath. It made for an entertaining show at least and good-natured humor. But, most importantly, the music… Barlow indeed made good on his promise to bring his ukulele on board and break out several songs from Weed Forestin, as it came up during our interview ahead of the cruise, back in December (Sebadoh’s Lou Barlow talks beginning with ‘Weed Forestin’ [soon to be reissued on LP]: an Indie Ethos Exclusive [Part 1 of 2]). He began the show with some of the most luscious ukulele strumming I have ever heard to songs like “New Worship,” “Whitey Peach” and “I Can’t See,” among a few others. Even though it was a week ago, I am recalling from a memory that now seems so distant, it already feels like a dream. I also did the usual irresponsible journalist thing throughout the cruise, not obligated to write a story for a publication or for money, I never bothered to write down the songs he played. I wanted this to be primarily a vacation experience, and I was going to fully take-in these rarely performed songs (so I made no video either, sorry to say), but I did take a picture of Barlow strumming the small, four-stringed instrument as evidence. For the fans who responded to my in-depth coverage of Weed Forestin, I do hope Barlow will begin bringing the uke along to shows in the future. He said he had practiced the songs in his cabin right there on the ship, including some songs he had not played since the eighties, around the time he first recorded these tunes, in the privacy of his bedroom.

About halfway through his set, he switched to acoustic guitar for newer songs and ended the show with the smart version of “Natural One” that he did during his first solo show on day two of the cruise, as documented here: Weezer Cruise over, back to reality – a recap (Day 2 of 4).After dinner, the final full show of the night for us was Barlow’s other band besides Dinosaur Jr., Sebadoh. The show started on time, as usual, at 10 p.m. at the Palladium Lounge. Barlow certainly became the MVP of the cruise, having performed bass and vocal duties in Dinosaur Jr. on two nights, two solo shows and three shows fronting Sebadoh. This marked his last show at the end of the cruise, just a half day before porting into Miami, where, that night, he would play in Dinosaur Jr. at the Miami club Grand Central with Yuck opening the show (Read a live review of the show at the Consequence of Sound website). The fact that I felt too tired to even attend that show offers testament to the notion that Barlow was the Weezer Cruise’s MVP. Counting the night before where he played in Sebadoh at the same club (see this “Miami New Times” review of that show). That makes nine shows in less than a week. Insane but a shining example of just what a prolific artist he is, as he also holds court in many side projects beyond the bands he played with during Weezer Cruise-related events.

The Sebadoh show began with noise and bass issues, but the band pushed through, determined to play their music. After a few songs, things got patched up on the technical side and Sebadoh barreled through for nearly an hour and a half. I captured two songs on video. Below you can watch “The Freed Pig,” which, according to Wikipedia, documents Barlow’s frustration with Mascis and his poor treatment within Dinosaur Jr., just before Mascis fired him. It’s interesting, just the night before Barlow sang the backing vocals for “The Wagon” with Dinosaur, the first song released by Dinosaur Jr. since Mascis kicked him out of the band they formed together. The next night, here he was, more than 20 years after breaking off with Dinosaur, singing the song that celebrated his “release” on a cruise ship where he pulled double duty performing in both bands with an ease that showed no tension whatsoever. Here’s “the Freed Pig” preceded by two minutes or so of Barlow commenting on the cruise experience and how having both Dinosaur Jr. and Sebadoh together in the context has been a dream of his, as bassist Jason Loewenstein tried fixing his instrument:

Finally, could there be a better tune to end this series of posts with than “Soul and Fire”…

Hans Morgenstern

(Copyright 2012 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

It was up early for Cozumel, get off the ship and get hoarded by residents dressed up in cartoonish outfits that mocked their own culture to take pictures with you, walked through a Duty free mall, got bombarded by sales people for all kinds of duty free. Outside, more stores, people selling the typical souvenirs. It was just a taste of what we had to put up with since we had not booked an excursion. I already touched on this brief Mexico stop in the first post (Weezer Cruise over, back to reality – a recap [Day 1 of 4]), so I’ll spare the recap and jump forward to the shows, which is really what the cruise was about for us.

Dinosaur Jr. took the stage on the outdoor Lido Deck, just as the sun began its descent, at around 6 p.m. It was not nearly as crowded as Weezer‘s Miami sailaway show, and neither was the crowd screaming. Here comes some serious riffage and guitar noodling by frontman J Mascis. And, man, these guys know how to pile up the volume. Just look at the stack of amps on stage:

As I noted during my de-virginizing Dino experience on day one of the cruise, we came unprepared, without earplugs. We tried for a view further back and it still stung the ears. I think the further away, the louder the music was. But that is indeed the element that creates the unique sound of Dinosaur Jr.  It’s a din so loud, a sort of aura of piercing fuzz coats each and every note. It creates an almost aural hallucinatory effect of multi-tracked instruments. No recording ever does it justice. It can only be experienced in person and without earplugs for that real effect. Though it’s probably not healthy.

Early in the show, Dinosaur offered many of their “hits,” per se, though they were never as radio-friendly as  contemporaries like Weezer or even Nirvana. They were a strange sound to come out of the late eighties, a time when New Wave and the most atrocious of pop music staled over the air waves. Depeche Mode, New Order and the Cure were breaking out of the college/underground scene. In 1987, the same year as the Cure’s Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me hit single, “Just Like Heaven” began getting noticed, Dinosaur Jr. responded with their own surreal take on the same song, on its second album, Your Living All Over Me. It almost felt like some sick joke then, and it reeked of revolt. They played it early in their set on the Lido Deck, listen for yourself:

Early in the show, bassist/vocalist Lou Barlow kept asking “Are we moving yet?” This was a “sailaway” show, and he would always be disappointed between songs that the ship had not unmoored itself from the dock. By the time night fell, the ship still had not moved and Barlow had given up checking, but here was Dinosaur tearing into one older tune after another. They performed lots of gran, old stuff from the debut album Dinosaur, like “Mountain Man,” and “Gargoyle.” Here’s that last tune:

As you will note, Mascis has certainly refined his guitar solos over the years. He does amazing work just standing there working those strings. It is no wonder none other than “Rolling Stone” magazine named him one of the “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time” (he was ranked number 86). The proof was there show after show. He would just stand there and rock back and forth while his hands were transported somewhere else.

After a quick dinner, the next show I caught that night happened to be Mascis performing his only solo show of the cruise, back at the Criterion Lounge. Though he played acoustic, he would still veer into some distinctive, loud fuzzy solos thanks to an effects pedal. Toward the end a violinist accompanied him, and they gelled in a nice, surprising way. I am unfamiliar with Mascis’ solo work, but it certainly seemed as distinctive an interpretation of singer-songwriter stuff as you would expect from him. I had a couple yapping next to me, so it was difficult to focus. The girl tried to take a video, but someone from the production crew stopped her. I was trying to “get” Mascis’ solo show. I arrived late to only catch the last few songs and did not grab enough flavor to pass firm judgement, but he certainly proved himself as distinctive. I wished he would have had another show, but there was only one night left of the cruise after this.

After the too-brief show, I took off to get my wife from the cabin, as she was had spent the Mascis show readying herself for the 80s Prom Night capper. Then it was finally off to see a Weezer show at the Palladium Lounge. It was clearly a night for the hardcore Weezer fans, as the show advertised was to include B-sides and the entire Pinkerton album. As a non-fan, I did not go in with high expectations, and it turned out I selected some bad seats ahead of the cruise (you had to pick your seats for one of two Weezer shows at the Palladium when you booked your cruise). We could not even see the drummer. An usher invited is to the pit, as she knew our view would be quite obstructed but we preferred sitting. Down in the pit, the hardcore Weezer fans screamed and sang along, and the band gave as much verve to straight up pop rock that they could. Most people know Weezer for 90s hits like “The Sweater Song,” “Buddy Holly” and “Beverly Hills.” The band is among the least edgiest of alt-rockers of the day, and the music does not veer far off track from that, even during B-sides.

As promised, Weezer performed some obscure B-sides that the fans ate up. The repertoire even included a cover of a post-Pixies Black Francis’ “Los Angeles.” After the set of B-sides, during which I dozed off a little, the band paused for an intermission. The wife suggested that we catch the Antlers on the Lido Deck, and that was that. Not to look the gift horse that put together this cruise in the mouth, but I was here for the other bands, and I can totally appreciate Weezer for putting this event together. It will live on forever as one of the best live rock experiences ever in my memory. Weezer was great standing up out on the Lido Deck, as the cruise set sail, but it gets pretty dull in a theatrical setting, and the Pinkerton album, which the band was going to play in its entirety after intermission, is far from a great work in the alt-rock canon, I hate to report.

I like music that burns slowly and explores dynamics with much more patience and subtlety. That’s why, instead, we found cozy comfort up there on the Lido Deck, in the dark, windy night, as the cruise ship cut through the Florida Straits, listening to the Antlers during a sparsely attended show. The highlight was getting a little more familiar with the band’s super slowburn of an epic live take of the one of the lowest of keys songs on the band’s new album, Burst Apart: “Rolled Together.” It begins with almost a slow, pulsating throb of a shadow of humming synth buzz coming from Darby Cicci’s tower of keyboards that whahs and quavers. Lead guitarist Tim Mislock plucks out a few rhythmic notes with a drawn out patience capping them with an odd, swooping strum that sounds as though the notes have tumbled, ramshackle to the floor. Drummer Michael Lerner clicks out a languorous, slowcore beat with his drumsticks before he starts to delicately tap out the beat on his kit. The whistling, synthesized drones swell up a notch and frontman/guitarist Peter Silberman begins to hushedly sing “Rolled together with a burning paper heart” repeatedly. With every refrain, the music slowly grows louder. Within his rhythmic chant of “Rolled together with a burning paper heart,” Silberman throws in an occasional “Rolled together but about to burst apart.” Those are all the lyrics to the song, as it builds and builds, until Silberman howls and screams the lines, while plucking out a minimal, but soaring melody on his guitar that fades and echoes until he repeats it over and over. The song is minimal but powerful, like an entrancing chant that portals you into the music. I nearly wept it has such a simple gorgeous quality of pure crescendo. The wind swaying the few lights on stage and the pitch black of night only enhanced the effect.

Especially because of that song, the Antlers remind me of the Verve during its A Storm in Heaven era, in the early nineties, before they succumbed to a more traditional, dull rock sound. This live version of “Rolled together” captures the pinnacle of the best kind of ambient rock, up there with the dreamiest of Spiritualized music. The Antlers’ live version blows away the recorded version of the track, as live it always seems to end with Silberman screaming out the words, as the music turns epic from almost nothing. I never recorded it on the cruise (I would have missed experiencing it by working the camera), but the only YouTube clip I found that equals the performances I saw of the song can be watched/heard here (though the beginning few seconds, all important to the set up of spasmodic finale, are missing):

For me, that song alone was one of the sublime highlights of the cruise, and the band played it during all of its performances. But whatever fuels the creation of such a performance certainly spills over to the rest of the Antlers experience live, and their shows quickly became my favorite memories of the cruise.

After that show, we braved the disco near the casino for the 80s Prom. It was super crowded, and people certainly embraced the theme night with gusto. Many had touted this as the highlight night. At his solo show the following evening, Lou Barlow spoke about nursing a hangover after hitting the dance floor, but me and the wife are more the introverts than the lives of the party. If the description of “Rolled Together” above does not show it, let me say I’d rather be transported somewhere metaphysical via music than dancing in a crowd, so we went upstairs to the Lido Deck to end the night with another Wavves show, at around midnight. The band was more subdued but cohesive. Most everyone else was below deck either dancing to memories of the eighties or singing the songs of the era during an Ozma-hosted karaoke event in the Criterion Lounge. We just laid out in deck chairs as the Wavves spewed their smarmy, rebellious punk rock into the night. The final day would prove to be our party day, with never-ending glasses of beer during a beer-tasting event hosted by none other than Boom Bip. (This series of post continues here: Weezer Cruise over, back to reality – a recap [Day 4 of 4])

Hans Morgenstern

(Copyright 2012 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

I feel as though I have plummeted back to a gray planet earth after finding a portal to a land of rainbows and unicorns. It has been a few days since the Weezer Cruise ported back into Miami, and the memories feel so distant and unreal that I may as well have dreamt it all.

In my earlier post about booking a cabin on the cruise, I had noted how surreal the line-up on the Carnival Cruise ship Destiny sounded (I have booked a cabin on ‘The Weezer Cruise’). After a glimpse at the bands that had signed up as entertainment, I signed on for the cruise with little expectations. I was never prepared to be disillusioned, underwhelmed or even over-impressed. I just wanted to take a cool, long overdue vacation.

Having worked for a cruise line during my college years and taken many a cheap vacation on the sea as a result, I felt I was over these ships. Little did I know that an inspired charter company called Sixthman had recently begun taking over ships for crazy theme cruises that make the journey the destiny. Speaking to one of the staffers on board I learned the line-up was purely curated by Weezer. Besides the titular rock group, which burst onto the scene via college radio in the early nineties, the line-up included a brilliant mix of alternative rock icons, up-and-coming buzz bands and stellar but obscure indie rock acts:

  • Dinosaur Jr.
  • J. Masics
  • Sebadoh
  • Lou Barlow
  • Yuck
  • The Antlers
  • Wavves
  • Free Energy
  • Boom Bip
  • Keepaway
  • Ozma
  • The Nervous Wreckords
  • The Knocks
  • Sleeper Agent
  • Yacht Rock Revue

Gene Ween and Dave Driewitz (a good part of Ween) had to cancel for undisclosed reasons, just a few days before sailing (I heard chatter and speculation from some that it was nerves, but the Sixthman crew I spoke to about it were mum).

Sixthman facilitated the indie rock music festival-on-water whose only port was the Mexican island of Cozumel. The island’s main purpose was to offer a respite from all the exhausting shows on board and a chance for Carnival to host some shore excursions. For the wife and I it offered a great chance for some authentic Mexican food (La Mission for lunch) and tequila. We actually bought a bottle of a distinctive liquor made from herbs in the Yucatán called Xtabentún (it’s legal) at a tequila bar in Cozumel’s downtown area after a few free samples of tequila.

But indeed it was the shows that provided the main attraction. On day one, we had to rush over to the port because—of course—my life on land is a hassle with too much to get done. We cut the lunch on board very close, according to the lady at the check-in counter. I just had a dab of pasta, salad, two cookies and coffee (I was not on the boat for the food). Weezer’s sailaway show started soon after the ship made it out of Government Cut and into the ocean. As they played their hits on the Lido deck I noticed a Celebrity cruise ship in the distance as the sun set. It was the weirdest scene, as Weezer even threw in a very faithful rendition of Radiohead’s “Paranoid Android” among their hits. There was no way being on that fancy Celebrity cruise ship could have been better. The show upstairs ended too quick.

Then came time to get acquainted with ship. Making sure we got ginger in because the ship was moving, we visited the sushi bar in the casino. People were in a hurry to get trashed it seemed. As we entered the elevator, I saw Nathan Williams, frontman of the Wavves staggering just outside the door like a wet, traumatized cat. He could not keep both feet on the ground at the same time. As the doors to the elevator shut, he took a few giant steps and crashed into a sign, falling into it and knocking it over. I thought it boded well for an interesting cruise, indeed.

Heading back to our cabin on the seventh floor, the so-called Empress Deck, security stopped to ask for our pass. For what? In order not to disturb the artists. So we had to walk around from the other side of the ship where we ran into the MVP of the cruise, Lou Barlow (he was on board playing bass in Dinosaur Jr., fronting Sebadoh and performing solo). He and his wife were just about to walk into their cabin. They clearly were not the rock stars needing protection. We spoke a moment and reminisced about our phone conversation that resulted in the two-part interview on this blog, especially this part: (Lou Barlow keeps spirit alive returning to band that kicked him out [Part 2 of 2 of Indie Ethos exclusive]). He seemed a bit embarrassed, as if I had stripped him naked. He said that a fan put the interview on his Facebook declaring: “Best interview ever!” He said he was surprised at what he told me, noting he had begun drinking a glass of wine before dinner, and his wife was scolding him in the background about what he was saying. They both laughed about it though (just as he was laughing in the interview), but in the end, he was like, “whatever,” noting he takes full responsibility for whatever he says. His wife then proceeded to share her own TMI, embarrassing him further, but I can respect off the record stuff. They were super nice, and it was too bad we didn’t have more time to chat on the cruise, but we also did not want to intrude, and we were there for the concerts.

That even we started with the low-key but impressive Yacht Rock Revue at the Criterion Lounge. They appeared to be creatures who slipped out of some portal to the seventies hidden somewhere out there in the Bermuda Triangle. They had the facial hair, style, swagger and polyester that could only exist in that era. I think I remember them as a six-piece. On stage they had all kinds of keyboards, horns and percussion in addition to the expected rock instruments. I did not have the camera on me on the first night, and I did not take notes. The best way to enjoy the cruise was not to worry so much about documenting it. They did incredibly faithful renditions of songs by Hall and Oats, Steely Dan, Three Dog Night, etc. There was also “Silly Love Songs,” “What a Fool Believes,” “More Than a Woman” and “Stuck in the Middle With You.”

We needed dinner and after some dancing, we left the show early to try and get seated with other cruisers in time to catch the Antlers. Everyone we met and talked to was great on board the ship, and I have some cards to stay in touch. We had to bail on our desert to make the Antlers show at the Palladium Lounge. They had just begun and were sounding amazing. The band’s dreamy, sincere music made for the perfect accompaniment for heading out into the Florida straits in the pitch black of night. We sat on couches in the balcony above the stage with our feet up, and I even took off my shoes, just sat back and enjoyed the clear view of the band at the half-filled venue.

After the Antlers cleared the stage, a giant stack of Marshall amps were brought out to surround J Mascis during the Dinosaur Jr. show. Sure enough, the music practically hurt. Having only seen Barlow in Sebadoh and solo in the past, it was impressive to watch him rock out on bass in a band that had a swaggering stage presence (I was also unprepared for the volume of a Dino show). The band never bothered with any stage banter; it was all about firing the assault of crunchy, pulsing songs with an aura of dissonance, pausing to readjust, tune, etc., then another assault.

We had to leave early because we did not come prepared with the required earplugs. My wife left first, as she felt a headache coming on. We were frantic for the exit and a security guard noticed, so he pointed out an emergency exit. My wife headed to the room, but I plugged my ears up with tissue paper from the bathroom. I heard a few more songs, until I got worried about the wife, and I was just about to leave when the band started “I Feel the Pain,” one of my favorite songs. A small group moshed among the couches on the first floor and some idiot ran to the edge of the stage to dive into the crowd, which parted, and he planted his face on the edge of the couch’s back. Two security guys pulled him out with prejudice, his nose bleeding.

We took the first night easy, all things considered, ending it with a walk outside, as people watched Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein on the giant screen outside on deck chairs and in blankets. We could have theoretically seen Keepaway on the Casino stage, but that was the most awkward of the venues. There was smoking in there and the stage was makeshift with difficult views. Still, now feeling the ache of desire to continue on with the live shows on the boat, regret has set in. But there were many more shows ahead, and I do have many live pictures and even videos to prove it, (continued in day 2 of 4).

Hans Morgenstern

(Copyright 2012 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

It’s on. I just paid off the balance we owed for a cabin on the Weezer Cruise. Having once worked for a cruise line (wearing the monkey suit at the Port of Miami and all) and taken advantage of “taxes only cruises” including a trans-Atlantic one that cost me about $150, I had resigned myself to never do another cruise again. Well, here comes the Weezer Cruise, offering a line-up on a Carnival cruise ship that includes many an intriguing band from the early indie rock days of Generation X (led by Weezer, of course) to today’s kids (including Yuck, who seem to recall the early nineties lo-fi sound with astounding devotion). The complete line-up includes:

  • Weezer
  • Dinosaur Jr.
  • J. Masics
  • Sebadoh
  • Lou Barlow (seems the original Dinosaur Jr. reunion is still going strong)
  • Yuck
  • Gene Ween and Dave Driewitz (a good part of Ween)
  • The Antlers
  • Wavves
  • Free Energy
  • Boom Bip
  • Keepaway
  • Ozma (whose keyboardist, Star Wick, will teach yoga on board, while guitarist Jose Galvez will host 80s karaoke in the eveings)
  • The Nervous Wreckords
  • The Knocks
  • Sleeper Agent
  • and Yacht Rock Revue (whoever that may be…)

It appears to be a much mellower, sensitive group of bands— with some strange wit thrown into the mix— than an earlier similar-themed cruise with another alt-pop nineties act, 311, headlining (I just learned a second cruise featuring 311  will happen in 2012). Among many other nautical music festivals designed by Sixthman, catching 311 on a cruise ship really did not make me blink. But when I received the email announcing the sale of space aboard the Weezer Cruise a couple weeks ago, the line-up dazzled these eyes.

I remember attending a Weezer concert, very vaguely, in 1996 at some large club in Fort Lauderdale that I think no longer exists. I thought their “Sweater Song” was annoying, and I had never heard the then new album Pinkerton. I think I had some free tickets, invited by an old friend I must have fallen out of touch with. The memory of the show faded into memory as something close to… meh. My devotions to nineties bands, stayed in the world of the slightly more “underground”: post-rock, Stereolab, Yo La Tengo, the Sea and Cake, Red House Painters, Spiritualized, Swans and such. Only many years after graduating college would I later come to appreciate that I was a fan of Radiohead and even Flaming Lips. Weezer, in the meantime, has remained a distant, hazy college memory that was just a part of the flavor of the era.

The moment I really felt convinced this cruise might be worth attending came when my eyes  gravitated to the fact that Dinosaur Jr. will be a great part of the schedule. Besides Dinosaur Jr., frontman/guitarist/J. Masics will play solo shows. Then there are shows by Sebadoh, the band Dinosaur Jr. bassist and singer Lou Barlow fronted on the side in the late eighties. Plus, he too will perform solo shows. Barlow would later dedicate himself to Sebadoh in the nineties after Dinosaur Jr. signed to a major label and he was kicked out of that band. I have such affection for Sebadoh that I consider the home-recorded Freed Weed some sort of odd masterpiece where the songs are as much about the lo-fi recording technique that preserved them as the writing. I met Barlow once at an in-store performance at the long-disappeared Blue Note Records in North Miami Beach, sometime in the early to mid-nineties, and told him how much I loved Freed Weed for that quality. He modestly suggested I check out Smog, but I still have a soft spot for some of the surprising and serendipitous gorgeousity of the noise hidden in the cracks of Freed Weed. Yes, for me this will be the great Dinosaur Jr. family tree show over a period of four days that will happen to unfold on a Carnival Cruise ship. My own subconscious could not have concocted a stranger dream (and I have experienced concerts of a Peter Gabriel-fronted Genesis— costumes and all— at a weakly-attended Miami Beach club and saw early Stereolab at a shopping mall in my dreams).

The bonuses are nothing to sneeze at. Yuck, who have been celebrated by a seeming nostalgia for the nineties-era indie sound of such artists like Pavement and Archers of Loaf, Superchunk and even Sonic Youth (in its nineties phase) will perform a couple of shows. Here is a new live video of probably my favorite track off their recent album (I get flashbacks of St. Johnny’s “Givin’ up” hearing this):

Then there is Waaves, who I first saw last year in Miami Beach when they opened for Phoenix (Phoenix pack arena-sized show into Fillmore theater). It will be great seeing them again on stage. The Antlers were another nice surprise to see in the line-up. That band is also a recently formed group of young musicians that began with bedroom recordings, influenced by nineties-era lo-fi noise pop by the likes of the Flaming Lips and My Bloody Valentine.

There will be many an interesting show for an indie rock lover on this “boat,” and that’s plenty to make up for my ambivalence towards Weezer. But despite said ambivalence, I have not given up on them just yet. All this renewed interest in Pinkerton of late has inspired me to finally invest in listening to that 1996 album seeing as the band is focused on reviving that album nowadays and playing it in its entirety during the ship-board shows along with the album’s B-sides. This all seems to weird… on a ship? Well, here is Weezer drummer Pat Wilson with details:

Cabins are still available and start at just over $500 for the 4-night cruise. If you are going, let me know.

Hans Morgenstern

(Copyright 2011 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)
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