Why have an indie rock concert on a cruise ship?
That’s the one thing that comes to mind in the new phenomenon known as “rock cruises”. It’s the question that came to mind when boarding a Mariposa Cruises yacht for the Bruise Cruise, an event for Toronto’s NXNE Festival sponsored by M for Montréal and the amusingly absent BrooklynVegan. Walking on the yacht, filled to capacity at fewer than 600 people, I formed an image of a bunch of college kids wandering a mansion that was not exactly theirs. The somewhat classy decor of faux wood, fancy bars, and formally uniformed staff did not match the crowd at all, and with good reason: Mariposa (and other cruises) cater to a specific clientele, as in couples, retirees, families with money to spend and an inability to improvise a memorable experience outside the bounds of a tourist group or clubbing. The pinnacle of luxury the hipsters on this cruise have is a MacBook Pro and maybe an $800 fixie; their idea of adventure involving couchsurfing, tripping, and hostels in Europe. The general moods of these people were mild bemusement and general confusion. Occasionally, a person would shout out “I’m on a Boat”, but even when that song made sense about what it was mocking, here it was a pathetic attempt at sounding ironic in a post-ironic time. Eventually, the question became less “Why have an indie rock concert?” and more, “What do we do on a yacht?”
As with any gathering of uninspired hipsters with a lot of space to move around, the answer became quickly obvious: Devolve into a hipster house show. Groups of four or six would be chatting about something, drinking beers and smoking cigarettes, chillaxing at maximum potential without accomplishing much of anything. The stage area at the bottom floor of the yacht, using a set of tables as a barrier, never filled to capacity, with a bunch of people always settled on the bow, stern, and roof decks of the ship. But given it was a warm summer day on Lake Ontario, it was hard to blame them. Of course, to make matters weirder, live engineer Tim McCreedy was working with a sound system essentially designed for wedding receptions and bingo games. The PA was not meant to handle a music concert, let alone a rock concert. The sound goal was to at least attempt adequacy, so much credit goes to Mr. McCreedy for reaching that goal where others would simply have achieved a bare minimum of mediocrity.
The poor saps that opened the Bruise Cruise were francophone garage rockers Jesuslesfilles. The term “poor saps” remains particularly applicable here: any foreigner (such as this writer) unaware of the social gulf between the francophones of Quebec and New Brunswick and English-speaking Canada would witness it first-hand in this show. Jesuslesfilles were clearly able garage rockers, but they felt really uncomfortable with the crowd of only a couple dozen francophones watching, knowing fully well the entire audience, locked on the boat that had only begun sailing 30 minutes before, was chilling out elsewhere. Their communications with the audience were stereotypical of house show performances: polite yet awkward. They would probably shine at a punk gig in Lyon or a warehouse show in Ville de Québec, but in this case it was a mere sideshow for the rest of concert.
Wandering aimlessly through the boat, the people did not know what they got themselves into. They had long given up life as society dictates to the rest of the populace, and now they were thrust back into the vivacious core of middle class luxury and decadence, without an idea as to what it meant. Of course they would respond like it was just another party to chill out, maybe meet people, because they saw it as nothing more than just another place to see a show. They assumed the usual positions of being hip and apathetic, hardened slightly because this boat was not their place. Most of the rest of the show gave a distinct pretentiousness stereotypical of most house shows run by hipsters. To make matters less formal, one of the key sponsors, BrooklynVegan, was conspicuously absent due to expired passports, leaving the emcee from M for Montréal a little more than hapless and anxious. Despite having members of two of Canada’s hardest rockers playing solo sets, the crowd reaction was neutral at best. Uncle Bad Touch, the work of Priestess frontman Mikey Heppner, played some quality soul with a few claps here and there, the audience trying hard to not be impressed. Movement was detected in the solo set of Young Governor, a member of Canada’s current indie darlings Fucked Up, but it was rather slothy. The most movement witnessed was in between sets, with the music being some ‘70s disco that people could shamelessly dance to.
That it took an American to rouse the mostly Canadian crowd is an understatement of depression. But final act Ty Segall, a member of the rising San Francisco garage rock scene, pulled that off just as the boat returned to harbor. In fact, the crowd went mental just as the boat docked, with Segall playing a punchy cover of Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid”. At the end, Segall crowdsurfed while the audience punched up the tiles of the low ceiling to give him room, and several members of crowd jumped over the table and danced with the man on stage, with security completely unsure how to handle such destructive movement.
Why have an indie rock concert on a cruise ship?
It remains to be seen whether rock cruises will continue to grow. But right now, if the Bruise Cruise is any indication, it seems more a desperate ploy to attract new cruise ship goers in a market that is declining and aging than anything else. The staff looked as confused as their market, looking like fox cubs attempting their first kill. Further, once things got reckless as the boat docked at the end, security looked absolutely confused as to what to do. The people that came on this boat turned the Bruise Cruise into a house show on a yacht, which comes off as a waste to these cruise companies. Perhaps, just perhaps, a better option would be to target the far larger and more party-able twenty-somethings whose main party experiences were keggers at State and clubbing in the city.