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.)

As I noted yesterday, during the first day the Weezer Cruise, I left my camera for the most part in the cabin to  enjoy the cruise as a pure spectator experience (Weezer Cruise over, back to reality – a recap [Day 1 of 4]). The next day the camera came out to document a few of the many great indie bands and musicians on board this unique four-night cruise.

The first band we saw that afternoon, at 4 p.m. was Boom Bip (pictured above), which needs a new name like the Sea Eats the Sky or Kaleidoscopic Soundscapes (kaleidoscopic images unfolded on the giant screen overhead as the band performed on the Lido Deck). The trio of musicians produced an extraordinary din of post rock grooves that recalled everything from Neu! to Explosions in the Sky. They began just as we sat down to have lunch behind the stage. I was looking out at the ocean, and I could not help but notice the waves out there reminded me of the cover art to Ride’s album Nowhere. Maybe it was the music, an odd sound to hear on a Carnival cruise ship, if there ever was one. For a trio of musicians, they had an awesome, grand sound that still had a nice driving, drone-rock quality. Nothing less than entrancing… if you listened to it. It was instrumental but mighty. I would later meet and chat with the band’s founder, Bryan Charles Hollon (pictured above on the keyboards). He was pleased that I had noted the references to Krautrock masters in the music, like Neu!, as well as the all-around post rock vibe of the band, which also recalled Mogwai. Turns out Mogwai has remixed their stuff:

Hollon also said he is longtime friends with Stuart Braithwaite, one of Mogwai’s guitarists. Of course, it would turn out Boom Bip are better known outside of the US and have a long catalog to show for it (mainly available in the UK on Lex Records). They were the only band I did not know before going on the cruise that also won me over as a fan. Unfortunately, a need for rest and a prejudice to over-indulge in the bands I already knew meant I missed getting to know other bands with respectful attendance. Over the course of the cruise I only got tastes of Keepaway and Sleeper Agent that showed potential, but not enough to pass serious judgement. But both sounded worthy of seeking out recordings (and I purchased a cool Sleeper Agent T-shirt on board). But I definitely hope to catch up with Boom Bip in the future.

Next show after Boom Bip on the Lido deck, at 5:30 in the afternoon, was the Wavves. We just chilled for a moment on deck chairs and then the show started right on time following a very precise sound check with the band. All the shows we saw throughout the cruise started like clockwork and sound was never an issue, except maybe at the artists’ discretion (Dinosaur Jr. was loud on purpose). I only witnessed one problem with buzz shrieking from an amp during Sebadoh’s last show, on the final night of the cruise, but even then, on-stage, frontman Lou Barlow gave props to the sound throughout the cruise. I’ve never seen so many shows, one after another, run on time with great sound. It certainly seemed the show’s producers, Sixthman, knew what they were doing. Also, though the bands were certainly of the anti-establishment ilk, they showed great professionalism when it came to logistics.

That said, Wavves gave a show worthy of the punk rockers they are. Frontman Nathan Williams started the show by showing gratitude to a mysterious character named Willers. He told the crowd about the difficult day before, as he said, he had took in too much mescaline. Willers apparently came to his rescue and brought him to his cabin, leaving him a note that said “Your cat looks just like mine” and his Twitter account info. Here’s a video of that show, with Williams still asking for Willers before the band tore into “Idiot” and “I Wanna Meet Dave Grohl”:

It was a fun concert with great attitude, yet the band remained affable and connected with the audience. Williams dedicated a song to a little kid (one of the few on board) and expressed appreciation to a man who yelled out “I enjoy your music!”

“Thank you, I’ll take that. That’s very nice,” Williams said, acknowledging the man with odd, mock sincerity.

Drummer Jacob Cooper at one point seemed so annoyed by all the banter between songs, he yelled at bassist Stephen Pope to “shut up,” as he seemed eager to tap out the next song. Here is an image of the band blowing their dirty beach rock jams out to sea:

That evening also marked the first Lou Barlow solo performance. It was a nice, low-key show at the Criterion Lounge, toward the back of the ship, which seemed to have already begun when we got there, even after we skipped out on the Wavves early. About halfway through his show, Barlow began asking how much time he had left, as he basically improvised the set list and even took requests. At one point Barlow expressed regret for not having his ukulele, something he referenced in my first interview with him before the cruise (Sebadoh’s Lou Barlow talks beginning with ‘Weed Forestin’ [soon to be reissued on LP]: an Indie Ethos Exclusive [Part 1 of 2]). Not only is the uke an appropriate instrument for a cruise, but it would have facilitated some selections from Weed Forestin. But the requests rolled in nicely, and he did a creative version of his one big hit single, “Natural One” (from one of his many side projects, the Folk Implosion). He ended the show with “Day Kitty” which, as he set up in the introduction to the song, revealed a lot about his life, love of cats and children. It was a fun, revealing show at the end, and the audience offered hushed attention, for the most part. Here he is taking on a Dinosaur Jr. song, early in the set:

After the show, it was off to dinner with more people: John from Atlanta and a couple from the Boston area wearing good ugly sweaters. The guy wore a printed Tupac sweater and the gal some hideous purple flower-print thing decorated by sporadic fake amethyst gem stones. Great efforts indeed. I had left my “ugly” sweater in the cabin, expressing I could not believe it was the Ugly Sweater Night already. It’s the second evening, and the Weezer cruise already felt as though it was passing fast.

During this dinner we stayed for the entire meal, all the way through to desert (heck, it was lobster night), but that meant missing bands. In the Criterion Lounge the Nervous Wreckords played a full set and Ozma had begun its set, which would bleed into Yuck’s show at the Criterion. Yuck were one of the star attractions of the cruise for us, so we had to catch them on the first night. They brought on the hypnotic white noise, which has the unfortunate effect of sometimes making one feel sleepy (it did not help that we had full stomachs), and we were sitting in the back at a cocktail table, watching everyone sway to and fro. It seemed a more choppy night at sea than usual. Max Bloom, one of the guitarists, asked for seasickness pills on stage, but the band made it through their set. The floor was cleared to make way for standing room, and it was too crowded to even get a good snapshot, much less make a video, so I offer a later picture of Bloom with the band outside on the Lido Deck.

As the band packed up their gear much of the audience straggled to chat. It was a pretty packed show. Seeing as this was the night of the first Weezer show of Pinkerton and B-Sides at the Palladium Lounge (we found that we had a pair of those randomly distributed “golden tickets” at check-in but chose Yuck over the headliners). There must have been other fans of Yuck like us who skipped Weezer to see them. As the band packed up, I went down to the cabin to grab the now out-of-print first edition Yuck record, which I had brought with me so they could sign it. They were all friendly but pretty aloof. I did speak with singer/guitarist Daniel Blumberg a bit. He praised the Silver Jews as an influence, but he also seemed tired of talking about his band, seeing as 2011 was a breakout year for the band on many a critic’s list (check out this “Rolling Stone” article). He was actually more interested in talking about his little known passion for cinema (turns out he is a big fan of the Decalogue by Krzysztof Kieslowski). Seeing as he signed my record on a cruise ship, here’s the appropriate note he wrote on the back of the record as we chatted:

Here’s the front after the rest of the band signed it (Blumberg also did the cover art, by the way. He was amused when I told him it wound up on “Billboard”s “10 Worst Album Covers of 2011“):

Then it was just back to the cabin, where I considered seeing Sebadoh, but, man, had the crowd grown rowdy. My wife told me that while I had been upstairs meeting the members of Yuck, some guy was knocking on cabins in the nude to use a phone. She heard yelling outside like “Dude, you’re naked!” and “Bro, I was just trying to get laid! She took my beer! I paid $8 for that beer, and I chased after her, and I look down, and I’m naked. She took my beer, and now I’m not even going to get laid!” That was a good enough note to end the day on. Still, more action-packed nights lay ahead… (continued in “Weezer Cruise over, back to reality – a recap [Day 3 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.)

Yes, the pictures are the proof, I was right up front for this show. The irony is, after seeing intimate shows by Vampire Weekend and MGMT in the balcony,  Phoenix did a show whose visuals, not to mention grandiose music, often spilled beyond the stage.

However, standing up front at the last show of Phoenix’s world tour, at the intimate Miami Beach venue at least provided a behind-the-scenes feeling while still having the full effect of the music. At one point, during an instrumental, singer Thomas Mars laid down on the floor with the back of his head on a monitor, casually tapping his toes out of the view of most of the audience, except those right up front.

But before the main act hit the stage, the members of Wavves ambled on as the house lights dimmed only slightly with little fanfare and barely any affectation on stage. Singer/guitarist Nathan Williams even taped his own hand-written set list to the stage. The rough-edged post punk group from San Diego played spirited and raw music. They served as a stark contrast to the slick pop rock of Phoenix, with their fancy lights and perky guitar-work. It made me wonder whether Phoenix hired the Wavves just to make them look better. Not that the Wavves are a bad band. Their ragged rock certainly follows the tropes of the post punk aesthetic, and their first album, 2009’s Wavvves, actually features some odd musical experiments of drones and noise that they left off their more classic punk album, 2010’s King of the Beach.

On Wednesday night, they tore through their repertoire with consistent, raw and simple energy. There wasn’t much thrashing or posturing by the band members, just a self-absorbed energy for their music. I captured the full version of “Beach Demon,” from their first album on video below:

After a short wait, Phoenix took the stage in darkness, a mist of smoke and flashing lights. Guitarist Christian Mazzalai was practically right in front of me. His airy, bright guitar licks came out as effortless as they sound on record. His stared out into the audience with a distant kind of casual quality, as his hands did the magic, driving Phoenix’s unique in-offensive, peppy rock. The French group’s sound would have sounded comfortable on late 70s commercial rock radio, alongside late period Who and ELO, it’s so classic in its sound. It’s not even remotely edgy like the post-punk sound that came out of England during that time. Hence, the odd juxtaposition with Wavves. I only caught two videos of Phoenix during the show. Here is the first, “Armistice”:

Phoenix probably performed the most theatrical of the shows I have seen at the Fillmore, Miami Beach this month. They made the smart move to elevate the drum kits and additional keyboards and had an array of lights, often super-bright and blinding to those too close to the stage. At the end of “North,” they suddenly dropped a giant, thin white curtain over the stage, which also created a waft of the smell of fresh, clean linen, a perfect complement to the fresh, crisp sound of the band.

Behind the curtain, Phoenix slowly and dramatically began building up the epic and mostly instrumental “Love Like a Sunset,” projecting giant shadows of themselves through the flowing fabric. Here is the beginning of the video captured on someone’s cell phone camera (unfortunately, the amazing climax is cut short):

This wasn’t the only time Phoenix made a strong attempt to reach the audience beyond the stage. Toward the end of the set, the band did a couple of songs from beyond the stage– as far as they could go. The two brothers and guitarists, Christian and Branco Mazzalai climbed over the barrier and through some fans to stand on a platform at the side of the stage. Meanwhile, bassist Deck d’Arcy took a small Yamaha keyboard and sat on a monitor right in from of me. Mars took his position on the barrier near the other side of the stage. They performed one of their mellower tunes, as well as a French classic from the sixties, “La Fille aux Cheveux Clairs.” I did not make a video, but I was able to snap some stills.

It reminded me of Coldplay’s efforts to reach the lawn seats at the Cruzan Amphitheater in West Palm Beach last year, when the band ran out beyond all the assigned seats to take to a small stage and play a couple of acoustic songs. Phoenix really made an effort to reach out to as many attendees in the theater as possible, like no other show I have seen at the Fillmore this month.

Their finale was their pièce de résistance. At the end of “1901,” crew members made a fire line to get a glowing orange cable out to the back of the pit, where Mars would show up to sing reprise the end of the song. The crowd held him above their heads, and he crowd surfed his way back to the stage. At one point he tossed his mic out into the crowd. Here’s a video from the back that captured the action from a distance:

After audience members carry him back to the stage, and the band ends their song, Mars begins grabbing fans and yanking them up, inviting everyone to storm the stage. As he helped pull fans up, people also ran for it. Mars actually pulled on one of my friends’ arm, but he passed on the invitation.

It was a scary sight to see a swarm of indie rockers who were not necessarily in their best shape climbing the chest-high barrier to step over a wide chasm to the stage. Some would later regret it. I saw one girl take a nasty fall between the barrier and the stage. I thought I had just seen someone get crippled, but thankfully she got up. I think my wife may have saved a life, by telling another girl not to do it, telling her “you’re too fat.”

Those who made it to the stage smiled, jumped around, hugged band members, took pictures and many even trembled in a mix of fear and delight. I haven’t found YouTube video of the chaos after the music, but here is a closer (and louder) view of Mars crowd surfing right by someone’s camera, as he is carried back to the stage:

At the beginning of the other song I caught on video, “Rome,” Mars declares this as the last show of their tour (it also seems to look sharper than the first video I took, though the screaming around me is more intense):

It was a great show and nice to finally see a band who could push the limitations of the stage at the Fillmore in Miami Beach. As Phoenix heads off to the studio for their follow-up to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, maybe they will come back at a bigger venue, where they belong.

(Copyright 2010 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)