By Liz Tracy
Photo by Ian Witlen Jarvis Cocker and Pulp aboard the S.S. Coachella.
The S.S. Coachella set out to sea rather unceremoniously. There weren't horns, not a streamer in sight, and no one smashed bottles against the body of the ship.
But we'd all been aboard the Celebrity Silhouette for about four hours at that point, and Father John Misty was launching our oceanic musical journey in the Sky Lounge. A 180-degree view of the sea spread in front of us, and a group of maybe 100 music fans with stars in their eyes didn't even notice where we were as the shore lights faded away.
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They couldn't have picked a better act to start out with. After watching former Fleet Foxes member Joshua Tillman, AKA Father John Misty, shake his hips, raising his mic stand to the sky (he was one of three dude singers swaying their hips sensually on Sunday night), and then Monday morning on the "lawn" playing with only his guitar, it's clear that he's the new man's cool guy. A world awash in talk of "hipsters" with internet access has changed the way music nerds are able to express themselves apart from the masses who all love all the music all the time. This cruise is populated with foreigners, people ready to rave, fashionistas, and all of the other types of people whom you'd expect both on a cruise and/or backstage at a music festival. But it seems many of the main acts are here to perform for a postcool world. And that is what, in some ways, Father John Misty represents.
At his first show, he made the requisite "end of the world" and hipster joke, suggesting the Coachella cruisers would be the final people on the planet. (Oh, the horror!) He lamented that there wasn't a chance to break a bottle on the side of the boat (seriously, though, that's why we came), adding that he'd still drink the bottle and pass out in his own vomit. "When God closes a door, he opens a vomit side-window," he sagely announced.
Mentioning God seems to be something Father John Misty does frequently. On the ship's grassy knoll Monday afternoon, he sang tunes with lines about Joseph Campbell and the Rolling Stones. The music was familiar Americana folk. The themes were personal and universal enough. And it seemed this guy was speaking for the heart of the S.S. Coachella cruise.
Just when I thought there were only, like, 200 people on the whole ship, a long line snaking out from the Silhouette Theater waiting for Yeasayer proved otherwise. Inside, the show started late, and Aaliyah's "Rock the Boat" played ironically or comically or perfectly. Whichever you prefer.
A terrible recording of a woman saying, over and over "Good Evening, S.S. Coachella" coaxed people to push toward the stage. Two guys in full-body, tie-dyed onesies modeled for the cameras. A few glow-stick bracelets lit up the crowd, and one person wore a Santa hat. People with glow sticks really do enjoy the live musical experience more than everyone else. Then the groovy stuff started and the glow sticks bounced. The first two songs sounded a little funny, and after the third, Chris Keating, the singer, said, "Hello, boat! Real talk. This is totally fucking weird." He was the first of two frontmen to complain of feeling queasy.
It is surreal watching these big acts playing in an enclosed room on a boat. In your head, you're grappling with the idea of being on a huge building that's swaying in the ocean. But then I didn't care so much and hungrily wandered around wishing there was an onboard diner. In this quest for more food, I ran into James Murphy in the elevator and had to pretend to not recognize him. That's why they do these cruises, of course. So that you can tell your friends again and again that you shared an elevator with James Murphy on the high seas until they really hate you.
It took awhile, but people finally started filling up the pool deck area where DJs were spinning. This is probably the only place in the world where "indie" music triumphs pop dubstep mixes.
Back in the Sky Lounge, !!! was, again, probably the most awesome band I've ever seen. I caught them at Ultra Music Festival two years ago performing under the Miami sun for about 50 people. But singer Nic Offer knows how to make any tiny crowd into a fucking fantastic otherworldly experience. A man after my own heart, he seems to always be wearing inappropriately short shorts. These were printed with the album cover of the Stones' Some Girls. And yes, he was the second of the three to throw his arms up and shake his hips. Fantastic. The lady next to me in a mod yellow dress said she'd seen !!! four times and flew here from Australia to watch them again.
Later, she was dancing like crazy to Pulp in the Silhouette Theater. Jarvis Cocker and his band had a sort of corny green laser light show going on with a hanging sheet as a projection screen displaying sentences like: "Are you feeling alright?" and "OK, I will meet you at the bar." There was even a Santa doing the running man.
Cocker (third hip-shaking dude!) sang in his deep delicious voice, donning a brownish suit with tie. As the sheet dropped, the whole theater danced. Pulp definitely brought the yummiest of Brit pop. This was the group's first time on a cruise, joking "We're all in the same boat together," calling it "a voyage of discovery."
That same sly British humor coursed through both the lyrics and Cocker's between-song banter. He joked about the letters "PULP" above the stage, lit up in blue and pink, swaying back and forth, saying he had a "sick feeling in my stomach, like I'm standing in the middle of a cruise ship."
But the ship isn't making anyone sick. More like it's making them drink and dance and making the men move their hips like ladies. Very sexy ladies.