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
- Lou Barlow
- The Antlers
- Free Energy
- Boom Bip
- 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).