The scene: An overfilled hot tub on the adults-only “Serenity” deck on the Carnival Imagination, which is making its way from Miami, FL to Nassau, the Bahamas. A girl (brown hair, bangs) is enjoying the jets as she drinks a mojito and eats a plate of cafeteria French fries. Moving over so another girl (mullet, glasses) can get in, she notices a large purple mark on the stranger’s thigh.
Girl 1: Gnarly bruise, man! How’d you get it?
Girl 2: I fell into a window last night, I think.
Girl 1: Oh no! Are you okay?
Girl 2: Yeah, I’m fine…I’m having an amazing time.
Girl 1: Oh my God, me too. Would you like a fry?
True to its name, the second annual Bruise Cruise Festival was full of scenes identical to this one, with its essential four elements: party scars, junk food, alcohol and extreme friendliness. While the people who go to garage rock shows are not exactly uptight in their normal environments, there’s nothing like being trapped in a floating neon casino with 499 fellow rock and roll fans, gallons of alcohol, some of your favorite artists and 1500 regular cruise people to create a sense of camaraderie. It’s also clear from Rebecca Smeyne’s photo gallery that bands like Thee Oh Sees, Fucked Up, and King Khan and the Shrines delivered the insanely electric kinds of performances that make the initial sticker shock of such an event worthwhile. I doubt anyone came away from this vacation feeling insufficiently entertained — relaxed is a different story.
But for all the sweaty hugs, beer showers and triumphant solos, there was also an underlying darkness to counterbalance the double rainbow of great music and nice people: sketchy Bahamian drugs, what I’d charitably call “jean jacket weather,” the uneasy way some bruisers regarded the “normals,” the uneasy feeling we were partying in a ruined (by us) paradise, the recent sexual assault of a tourist by another tourist outside Saturday night venue Senor Frog’s, and the many accusations of wrongdoing leveled at Carnival over the years. As Jello Biafra put it after one of his well-attended spoken word rants, “How weird is it to be on a cruise ship and say, ‘On to Occupy!’”
But what kind of rockers would we be if we couldn’t live with problems and contradictions, even as we hope to someday solve them? Was it possible to appreciate the irony at the same time we appreciated the 24-hour soft serve machine? Could we look at our straitlaced counterparts as fellow adventurers and not Everything Punks And Freaks Know Is Wrong With America? Furthermore, could all this strangeness form a backdrop for human connection? Because it was almost Valentine’s Day, and our ship was as close to a punk rock love boat as anything will ever be, I asked some of the festival’s performers to put on my captain’s hat and reveal their cruise crushes, as well as their feelings on the whole shebang.
Directly after his talk about shitty band names and progressive politics Friday night, I approached Jello Biafra and asked him why he’d decided to join the cruise. “Just cause I’ve never been on one before and I wasn’t gonna do one otherwise,” he said. “And to see King Khan and the Dirtbombs and Neil Hamburger, and catch up with my friends and stuff.” He felt mixed about attending a cruise ship festival, too. “I looked into Carnival’s dirty deeds and it wasn’t pretty,” he explained. “But I figured what the hell? I’m probably never gonna do it again.” He donned the hat and smiled for the camera.
On Saturday, the temporary residents of the Bruise Cruise ship took a five-minute walk from the port to Senor Frog’s, a boobs-and-burritos chain bar which our snorkeling boat driver had told us earlier was the place to go if we “want[ed] to get totally wasted.” From a stage ringed with lite-up frat-isms like “Vagitarian,” retro-styled comedian Neil Hamburger regaled us with numerous music-themed jokes like “Why did Metallica cut off all their hair? Because it was matted with semen!” He also took some time to berate the normals sitting in back, cramming quesadillas in their mouths and mooching off the wristbanded people’s entertainment, accusing them of “dipping their balls in Dominos’ pizza sauce” and demanding they be “thrown in the river.” After his set, I commented on how Jonathan Toubin had practically been lynched the year before for poking fun at the people of Senor Frogs, but Neil could get away with it because he was playing a character. “I never say anything onstage I don’t believe,” he replied.
Before Neil, The Togas (a supergroup composed of Ty Segall and members of Shannon and the Clams, Strange Boys and Reigning Sound) delivered a messy set of cover songs voted on by fans. “This song is for people who are into hippie bullshit,” Segall said (or some reiteration thereof) before launching into anything even vaguely “classic rock.” I later asked Togas bassist Shannon Shaw if Segall really hated hippies. “I think it’s part of his character he plays onstage,” she said. Was there anyone not playing a character here?
John Dwyer, of thee always excellent Oh Sees, was confirmed to be the official cruise crush of many passengers, both male and female, Mikal Cronin included. He’s ruggedly handsome, he has tattoos, and he shreds his 12-string like a demon. But when I asked him who his own cruise crush was, he got shy. “Ironically, a photographer girl, but I don’t know who she is,” he said. “She’s cute, tan pants.” Being friendly with many of the journos aboard, I offered to help him find her. “No, I’ve seen her a bunch,” he sighed.
Fucked Up’s headlining spot Saturday was for many the emotional climax of the weekend. They did some cover songs (“Breed,” “Miss World,” which us girls in front got to scream into the mic to, and, hilariously, “Jingle Bells”) before launching into their own brand of poppy, proggy, loud-as-hell hardcore punk. Once the shot girl had finished pouring syrupy fluid down his throat, Abraham declared, “This is honestly the drunkest I’ve been since I was like, 15″ before climbing up on the bar and mooning the audience.
Post-show, he identified his cruise crush as “my beautiful wife,” who was sitting close by. “She’s five months pregnant and unbelievably awesome.” His #2 crush-slash-”spirit animal”? “Ty Segall,” Abraham answered. “He and I realized that he and I would’ve done it if we were attracted to each other. Our part of the cruise is way more attractive than the rest.”
Vockah Redu and Kyp Malone
Performing his own version of the queer New Orleans hip-hop subgenre called bounce, Vockah Redu makes a project of demonstrating the term “punk rock” doesn’t only belong to dudes with guitars. Despite a few too many rum punches, I fought off sleep until 3am Friday so I could see Vockah and his “Cru” of backup dancers move their bodies in unbelievable ways to an aggressive fusillade of dance beats, as well as hang from the ceiling and molest a male blowup doll borrowed from a bachelorette party. The next night at Senor Frog’s, it was Vockah who started the conga line that threatened to overtake the entire club, and Vockah who led a morning “Redu-icise” exercise class for those undeterred by hangovers. The man’s a force of nature, plus he’s got cheekbones like a runway model.
I caught up with him on the Lido deck Sunday night to ask what his favorite thing about the cruise was. “The smiles on everyone’s faces when they came to my show and my Reduicise class,” he said. “This is amazing, from getting on the boat to the performance … I couldn’t wait to perform! It just makes me bubbly like champagne inside.” And best of all, he felt at home on the Cruise. “They consider me a rocker person, so I fit in with the underground garage movement of people being themselves and not caring what other people have to say.” We switched hats with each other for a picture.
Throughout this conversation, Vockah and I both kept glancing over at Kyp Malone, whose majestically bearded mug could be seen taking in a beer and the night air several yards away. My heart was still swollen from his gorgeously raw solo performance that morning, and I was a tiny bit nervous to meet him. I told Vockah this, and he said he felt similarly. So we agreed to go talk to him together.
What followed was the type of meeting I’m now convinced the Bruise Cruise is tailor-made to inspire. You can only stare at your rock idol at the bar for so long before you decide to stop being a creep and talk to him like a person. Malone did not seem put upon by our fandom, and returned sincere compliments to Vockah. He noted that most of what he’d performed was from his solo album Rain Machine, modestly adding, “It’s not as loose and fun as live is, but I’m working on a new one now.” And who, dare I ask, was his cruise crush? “Probably Vockah.” “Oh, I’m about to jump in the pool!” V replied, cheekbones pushing upwards in an expression of ecstasy, and I tore some pages from my notebook so they could exchange emails. Vockah told him of his upcoming show in New York. “I’m looking forward to it,” said Kyp, and V looked like he might burst. Could a Kyp Malone/Vockah Redu collaboration be in the works? If so, you heard it here first.
Like everyone, Kyp wore the hat with pride, and he was the only person who looked anything close to what I imagine a real captain looks like in it. “It’s the beard,” he said.