Weezer Cruise over, back to reality – a recap (Day 3 of 4)

January 28, 2012

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.)
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