Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker recently revealed to Q Magazine that they have no more gigs planned after the inaugural S.S. Coachella cruises, and ruled out any new material. Perfect excuse to attend, right? Once the lineup was revealed back in July, I immediately created a Facebook group, adding every friend that expressed the slightest interest in attending. Thankfully I found two that were willing to book the cruise with only four days notice. Pulp people are the best people, after all, and definitely hardcore.
I didn’t know that I would be seeing Pulp for possibly their last performance ever, just that I would be seeing them again, so why did I drop everything to book a stateroom for the S.S. Coachella? Maybe I’m just getting older, but the absence of hardship while never being less than a thousand feet away from my own bed and bathroom were the equally enticing aspects of the cruise. Roughing it while surrounded by teenagers enjoying their first overdose is close to becoming more trouble than its worth, and as someone that got into the world of music writing because of festivals, that is saying quite a lot. By the last day (or in the case of Glastonbury 2010, the end of the first night) of the average festival, my sinuses usually blackmail me into a week of bed rest and dubiously purchased antibiotics under the threat of pneumonia. After a while, it all becomes yet another routine.
Make no mistake, I love seeing my favorite artists live and discovering new ones while engaging in a reasonable level of debauchery with like-minded people, but on a boat, I don’t have to deal with dust, mud, long walks, or extreme temperatures. And I know I’m not alone in this. Sometimes you just want the best of times without all the bundled drama. But can someone really have it all, or does being on a luxury liner strip “the festival experience” of its edge?
Wednesday, December 19th
12:30 p.m. - Upon arrival at S.S. Coachella, aka the luxurious Celebrity Silhouette, we’re greeted with champagne glasses and a level of friendliness that I could never match. Our first order of business is heading to the S.S. Coachella customer service desk to sign up for activities. Even though the desk does not open until 4:30 p.m. and embarkation officially began five minutes ago, the DJ lessons and Black Lips bar crawl activities are already full. The Real Wine and Snowball Bar Crawl activities filled online in advance, but thankfully I’m on the waiting list for the tasting and confirmed for the latter. All other activities are on a first come, first serve basis, so I make a mental note to arrive early for everything.
I’m actually almost relieved that the DJ lessons seminar is full, namely because choosing between the end of that and Warpaint’s second performance would be one of the cruise’s only difficult scheduling conflicts. Speaking of which, the scheduling is planned in such a way that one really can see every act if they so desired. At my last Coachella, I had to make stomach-churning decisions between Charlotte Gainsbourg/Jonsi; Little Dragon/LCD Soundsystem/front row for Fever Ray; Devo/2ManyDJs; and Orbital/Pavement/a spot within a mile of Atoms for Peace to name a few, so it’s a refreshing change of pace.
1:30 p.m. - Within an hour of embarkation, we already have two new friends. After a brief stroll around the upper decks, we’re colored impressed with the cleanliness and understated beauty of the Celebrity Silhouette. From the floor tiles to the lawn furniture, all decor is surprisingly tasteful. After a round of photo ops at the unattended DJ booth and oversized chairs at the lawn, we realize how hungry we are, so we hit up the buffet at the Oceanview Cafe, and soon after, Hot Chip sits at the table next to ours. My pasta and minute steak are the definition of mediocre, but still edible and oddly comforting.
Sometime after two – During our walk-about, we find ourselves in the Aqua Spa, where we’re given brief demonstrations of the massage services available. These five minutes are the most relaxing ones I’ve ever enjoyed, and levels of tension I never knew I had dissipate as my shoulders settle into a gelatinous state. Unfortunately, $195 is out of my price range, but I vow to return if I do well in the casino.
4:00 p.m. - After a shower, some stateroom exploration, a few more meetups, and a forgettable safety drill (!), I’m waiting at Cellar Masters to switch from the wait list to confirm the Real Wine activity. Jarvis Cocker walks past me with a suitcase, but he looks busy so I don’t bother him. Pressing concern: Do I post a Facebook status about it? Of course! Facebook bragging is something I need to enjoy before we sail into the sea of international roaming charges. If social networking is an addiction, then how will I handle being away from it for four days? And, really, there’s no way I’m paying $.75 a minute for wi-fi.
4:40 p.m. - We arrive just in time to catch the end of the first of countless Alf Alpha DJ sets, and as we move to the upper deck for some breathing room, he mixes some Bel Biv Devoe. Consider me satisfied. At some point Alf Alpha surrenders the decks to none other than James Murphy because he apparently really wanted to play as we sailed away, but I don’t even realize this until after the fact. Outbreaks of bare butt cheeks and Instagram photos spread over the pool deck, and I feel like I’m back in Indio. I take one final “you should have come” Facebook photo with my phone and feel a surprising sensation of liberation as I disable data. The sun is going down, everyone is having fun, a light wind is washing over my body, and I have a free Heineken in hand. It’s a good life, I have to admit.
Around six most likely. - Wine tasting seems to be the kind of activity that our well-off might enjoy on a cruise without a hint of irony, but our hosts assure us that it wine need not be bound to elitism. According to Murphy and co-host Justin Chearno, the wine most of us drink is loaded with additives and preservatives, much like the foods we eat. The results of natural winemaking can be unpredictable, which is half the fun.
Frank Cornelissen’s “Contadino 9” tastes like “burning” with hints of gravel. The oenophiles put everything into terms we could understand, specifically that a wine distributor is like a record label and that just as punk bands do not register as such, wines are not labeled as “natural.” As enjoyable as it is educational, where else but the S.S. Coachella could such a random event occur?
7:15 p.m. - One of my Pulp pals and I want to be up front and center, so we arrive at the Silhouette Theater some three hours and 15 minutes early to secure our spots. The seats in the theatre are extraordinarily comfortable and if there were any low key performances happening here, it would be easy to fall asleep. It’s not long before a couple other joyriders find us in the front row, one of whom just saw Pulp in Sheffield. I’m as impressed as I am jealous.
8:00 p.m. – Okay, so there goes that plan. After being expelled from the Silhouette Theatre, we walk down the hall to try the Grand Cuvee, basically the main dining hall, for a second dinner. The food trounces the buffet, and I try the steak with shrimp cocktail and Caesar salad. It hits me that I’ll never eat food like this at a traditional music festival, let alone a three course meal with cloth napkins, silverware, and a multitude of servers.
10:30 p.m. - By now everyone’s heard about Pulp’s tension-building laser intro, so the element of surprise is long gone. At other shows on the reunion tour, questions such as “Are you ready?”, “Shall we do it?”, and “Do you want to see a dolphin” scrolled across a curtain, and in multiple languages when needed. But instead of a dolphin, here comes Santa, appearing on the curtain for a shuffle. Well played.
By the time the curtain drops during the first chorus of opener “Do You Remember the First Time?”, the theatre is packed but still not completely full. I know the cruise isn’t sold out, but the room felt fuller at the safety drill, and I know a lot of people skipped it. In any case, these cruise gigs have to be the band’s smallest public performances since the ’90s, and now the finale is an even more intimate event than expected.
“Our ship sails away on the morrow, bound for distant shores. When we will reach our destination, no-one knows, but rest assured: We’ll be in touch.”
It’s a quote from the liner notes of Pulp’s Hits compilation, and it’s now more appropriate than ever now that Cocker has revealed there will be no new album and there are no more gigs booked. This might be Pulp’s sailing away, but what’s missing from the occasion is an air of finality. As Sheffield’s finest run through their most popular songs, the one feeling that’s absent is one of farewell. What ought to be a bittersweet affair with the shedding of tears is a completely exhilarating event. We laugh, we dance, and impure thoughts ensue, but sadness is not on the agenda. Perhaps it’s not really over.
What separates Pulp from most reunion acts is the genuine elation that comes from the performance. Yes, they are getting paid handsomely, but it’s not just about the money, and there’s an unmistakable sense that everyone still gets along and is having fun onstage. Keyboardist Candida Doyle and guitarist Mark Webber drop subtle smiles as they nail their sections perfectly, while violinist Jean Cook appears to have become one with the moment during her solo on “Pencil Skirt”. And Jarvis Cocker’s peerless showmanship? It comes across less as practiced theatrics and more as the shedding of restraint as he consumes more of the audience’s energy and adoration. His brand of strip-teasing, stage-humping, bra-sniffing swagger is one that would get him locked in the brig of a traditional cruise.
Pulp play it relatively safe with tonight’s setlist. All the expected jump-and-singalong anthems surface, as do fan favorites such as the aforementioned sleazy delight “Pencil Skirt”, Great Expectations/Venture Bros. soundtracker “Like a Friend”, and most surprisingly, a rare airing of “His ‘N’ Hers”, which is apparently their most Caribbean-sounding number. At the song’s midpoint, before listing what he’s frightened of, Cocker asks audience members what does it for them, and one fan replies with “public speaking!” Unlike other headlining shows on the tour that featured completely unexpected oddities such as “My Lighthouse” and “I Love LA”, the band never journeys further back in their discography than “Razzmatazz”. It’s probably for the best, because the crowd already has a few too many that seize “Bar Italia” and the quiet half of “Like a Friend” as cherished opportunities to hear their own voices speaking of unrelated matters.
The irony of performing “Common People” onboard a cruise ship where the cheapest booking rate was $900 after fees is not lost on Cocker, as he takes a moment to acknowledge it before moving on. Besides, some of us are muggles; we just had to sacrifice and work extra hard to make this trip a reality. After a bruise-inducing raucous response to the ultimate outsider anthem of our time that includes one failed attempt at a crowd surf, the crowd demands more. The band returns and Cocker declares they only have time for one more song. My English friend’s plea for a cover of “Eye of the Tiger” is denied because “we don’t know that one.” How soon we forget.
My request of “My Legendary Girlfriend” goes unheard, and the band rips into another urgent us-vs-them celebration in the form of “Mis-Shapes”. Unable to resist, I begin saying my pardons as I squeeze against the stage with the intention of invasion. One fan on the other side beats me to the punch, as she rushes Cocker for a brief hug before making her exit. I don’t see security dragging her away, and in fact, I see no security at all, so I go for it. After a quick spaz out, I begin to imitate some of the moves Cocker pulled when he infamously invaded Michael Jackson’s space and two of my friends join me in the moment. At the end, the man himself shakes all our hands with approval.
I catch a look at the setlist and see that the unplayed gems “O.U.”, “Bad Cover Version”, and “Live Bed Show” are listed. Had Pulp’s set time been a full two hours, then perhaps they would have made an appearance, and the latter two were near the top of my wishlist. What happened to bands playing longer sets than usual, especially since we are only getting one Pulp set instead of two as originally claimed? The post-show high is still burning too strongly for me to give much thought to what might have been, however. After all, I just “pulled a Jarvis Cocker” during the “last” Pulp show. From here, life has nowhere to go but down. As for the next S.S. Coachella, it will be difficult to match tonight’s show, but Blur is a safe bet. Their shows are similarly energetic and contain that rarity factor that inspires the dropping of a small fortune to catch. Outside of headliners, Bat for Lashes would also be a perfect fit, but I digress.
12:20 a.m. - James Murphy is spotted waiting for an elevator and someone in ours calls out to him. It seems he recognizes me as that guy who jumped onstage during Pulp. He won’t be the last. I ask if he’s playing Coachella next year, and he says no. Now would have been a good opportunity to ask about those Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Arcade Fire albums, but he promptly makes his exit after just a few floors.
12:30 a.m. - By the time we arrive at Sky Lounge, a large crowd has already formed and it’s going wild for one of 2012’s biggest breakthroughs: Grimes. I’m beat from the frenzied Pulp farewell and three relatively sleepless nights, so I grab a seat in the back and rehydrate. I’m told there are dancers onstage going into the crowd, but all I can do is listen from my vantage point. Visions is one of my favorite albums of 2012 and the live renditions do not disappoint. From my distance, everything sounds faithful in sound and whimsy, with an enthralling live show to boot. I vow to arrive early enough tomorrow to watch from the front of the crowd.
1:20 a.m. - Outside by the pool’s Mast Bar, a girl who appears to be having the most epic of journeys asks me twice within 30 seconds where I’m from, all while rubbing my cheeks. I realize that for the rest of the week, I am going to be known as “that guy” thanks to the aforementioned stage invasion — not really a bad thing. Back inside, I see Warpaint’s Emily Kokal in line at the bar by Sky Lounge and get a photo and a brief chat. Yes, she saw me jump onstage during Pulp. Jarvis Cocker walks by again and chats with Har Mar Superstar.
1:30 a.m. - Appearing as silhouettes in front of a setup that includes a massive modular synth dripping with wires, Simian Mobile Disco proved to be one of the best and most “live” EDM acts in the festival circuit nowadays. Witnessing their never-the-same twice reconstructions makes my exhausted body want to move. Unfortunately, all the rows of seats make dancing a risky venture except in the aisles and gap between the front row and stage, so I stand awkwardly to the side. One reveler communicates with my friend only by sticking out his tongue as far as he can, and another asks a gibberish request that involves taking our picture with my camera. Well, the tops of our heads, at least. It’s been a long day and things are getting a little too weird for what’s only the first night, so I retire to my room comparatively early.
Too late - The television has one channel that features nothing but an endless loop of the Coachella film, so I watch the interviews segment while waiting for room service. Inside the room service menu is a door hanger with a checklist listing all the available breakfast items and options for delivery time. I have not seen my roommate since before Simian Mobile Disco, so instead of guessing what he might want for breakfast, I just request two of nearly everything. Leaving the veranda door open as I open my stateroom creates a whirlwind that sends every loose piece of paper flying down the hall, including my breakfast menu.
An urge to see and do everything drives me out of the comfort of my stateroom following a “meh” mini-pizza and a highly decadent slice of cheesecake with blueberry sauce. The schedule lists a special guest at 1:30 a.m. and a surprise Grimes DJ set at around three in Quasar, the ship’s space-age disco. Rumors circulate that the guest will be Flying Lotus because Warp listed S.S. Coachella under his upcoming events. I drop by shortly after three to check out Grimes, but she’s nowhere to be seen. I don’t recognize the faces of the DJs inside the sphere, either, but it sounds like a fun time. I realize I’m in my pajamas and leave to change, only to be distracted by the casino, which is packed with late night gamblers. I would join them, but I don’t have any cash with me. When I make it back to Quasar at 3:30 a.m., Claire Boucher is nowhere to be seen, and I return to my stateroom for an all-too-short round of sleep.
Thursday, December 20th
8:30 a.m. - My roommate returns just in time for a breakfast with ham and cheese omelets, bacon, sausage, croissants, fruit, pancakes, juice, and tea. With the exception of the shrunken, tough pancakes, everything is delicious. It’s tempting to crawl back to bed for some much-needed shuteye, but I have a lot on my agenda.
10:00 a.m. – While I’m not a Hot Chip fan, I do find it crazy to be staying two doors down from Joe Goddard. Desiring some quiet time, I hit the Solarium’s indoor pool for a soothing dip, but all that greasy breakfast meat and room service drives me to swim some laps. After my fingers and toes regress to a completely pruned state, I depart the Solarium, passing Mark Webber along the way.
Around noon – On the second level of the pool deck, there’s a jogging path that passes the ship’s burger bar. While feasting on a burger loaded with bacon and mayonnaise, I wonder how the two joggers can exercise so intently while vacationing on a shrine to excess. A familiar baritone announces over the PA that there will be a PowerPoint presentation in Celebrity Central at 2:00pm and that Bruce Lee and a rabbit in dungarees will be making an appearance.
2:00 p.m. - Always dressed the part, Professor Jarvis Cocker visits Celebrity Central to give a rare lecture on song lyrics and whether or not they matter. Despite being a lyricist renowned for wit, Cocker does not think they’re that important and a song can be great without them. Case in point: “Louie, Louie”. “She ain’t the kind I lay at home”, “grab her way down low”, “I felt my boner in her hair.” These are examples of what the FBI thought the indecipherable lyrics to “Louie Louie” were saying, and they spent a lot of taxpayer dollars attempting to solve the mystery in a lab. It’s a humorous and enlightening bit of information, which Cocker follows with a self-deprecating reading of “Shakespeare Rock”, his first song. He initially set out to be a joke act in an effort to be laughed at on his own terms, which is entirely understandable.
Cocker also reads an excerpt from “Life Is a Circle”, a song deemed too embarrassing to reveal in full. Fortunately, he eventually switches to storytelling, and he then reads familiar favorites such as “Inside Susan”, “Sorted for E’s & Wizz”, and “Wickerman” while relevant imagery plays on-screen. At the lecture’s finale, Cocker gives away some of his wardrobe as prizes if you guess the band being punned on-screen. A photo of Paul McCartney plus one of bees? Maccabees! All in all, it’s an hour of layers upon layers of surrealism.
4:00 p.m. - Shortly before the start of the Dear Diary activity, my group hits the buffet, where I see Mark Webber again and meet Jean Cook at the pasta line. I’m not really hungry, but I grab some pizza and fruit to accompany my two glasses of lemonade. Dear Diary is in Michael’s Club, which is a cozy craft beer club furnished with coma-inducing leather chairs and, most importantly, a fridge loaded with dozens of beers. It’s the ultimate man cave, and my bottle of Dead Guy Ale costs $9.20 after tax and gratuity.
A couple dozen people have crowded into Michael’s Club to hear humiliating tales of middle and high school-era angst and failed romances read by special guest Har Mar Superstar. One story takes place at a Star Trek convention, while another involves time travel, but most scandalous is an anecdote of early sexual mishaps during a screening of Angels in the Outfield. Era-appropriate songs such as Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Soul to Squeeze” and TLC’s “Creep” soundtrack the laughter, which erupts approximately every 6.7 seconds. Unfortunately, only four entries are read because that’s all he has. It’s a fantastic idea for a cruise activity, so why so few submissions?
4:30 p.m. - Tokimonsta’s, aka Jennifer Lee, Cosmic Intoxication wowed me with its spellbinding melodies and hip-hop beats, so checking out at least one of her sets is a priority. Because it’s so far away from everything else and I rarely enjoy the music or vibe inside, I usually make a point to stay out of Coachella’s Sahara Tent, but at this festival at sea, the next closest thing is the center of all the action. Given the rise in popularity of EDM among the populace, it’s a fitting metaphor. The pool deck has been transformed into a surprisingly close relative of the fabled dance tent, complete with booming sound and accompanying intricate lights and lasers. If viewed from the appropriate angle, the artist inside the booth appears to be completely engulfed by LCD screens, which appeals to the light show monkey in me. However, what’s refreshing about Lee beside her sound is that she doesn’t need to rely on flashy lights or incessant Jesus poses to catch the crowd’s attention.
It’s not long before someone recognizes me as “that Pulp guy” and double high fives me, and a woman in a green bikini attempts a single, but instead slaps me across the face, which she apologetically kisses. The Brainfeeder star keeps things extra fresh by tweaking Atoms for Peace’s “Default”, and after that point, everything’s a blur. I find myself enthralled by a chilled vibe and genre-blending soundscapes that give me no other option but to let loose with everyone else on the floor. At Coachella 2004, it was the sun setting over the vast emptiness of the desert sky during the big Pixies comeback that captured my heart enough to guarantee my return the following year, and listening to Tokimonsta’s beats while the sun sinks into the Caribbean as we sail past Cuba is a similarly magical moment.
7:00 p.m. - Compared to last night, round two of Grimes is a brief, subdued affair. Feeling the effects of the suite life, Boucher remains seated next to a trash can for the entirety of the set, while flanked by attention-seizing interpretive dancers. Early in the set, an excessively aggressive member of the side-stage entourage comes out to yell “NO FUCKING CAMERAS!” at the fans and media up front. Well, since you asked so nicely…
8:00 p.m. – It should be stated that the bathrooms are an absolute paradise compared to those at every festival on land. Like everything else on the ship, great attention was put into making it aesthetically pleasing. Cloth napkins accompany paper towels by the sink, and for extra cleanliness, you don’t even have to touch a door handle thanks to the buttons paired with nearly every door.
I enter a little too soon after the floor has been mopped, and I fall down and go boom. Thankfully, all that’s broken is my pride and the button to my shorts. Despite the button situation, I manage to navigate the buffet without a wardrobe malfunction. Steve Mackey dines at the table next to ours, but after clearing his plate of sushi, he gets up for seconds and sits at the other side of the room. We don’t speak or gawk at him, so it’s hard not to take it personally. Did he recognize us as those stage invaders?
9:30 p.m. – While changing, a special delivery of party hats, nametags, and envelopes arrives at my stateroom. It’s for tomorrow’s Snowball Bar Crawl, and according to my instructions, I am to meet my group at the basketball court tomorrow at 6:00 p.m., where I’m to shoot some hoops or “bro out” (yes, the letter really states this) while awaiting further instructions.
Sometime after? – Thanks to the bathroom incident, I’m late to Cloud Nothings’ final set of the cruise. Despite my belated arrival to a short gig, what I see is more than enough for the occasion to guarantee a spot on my list of the top 10 live shows of the year. The Cleveland quartet’s definitive moment is the extended instrumental section of “Wasted Days”, a cyclone of pure musical savagery that takes no prisoners as its guitar-abusing wrath widens every eye in the lounge while prying our mouths slightly agape. Indie rock is always loaded with lo-fi, raspy, in your face punkers, but Cloud Nothings have some serious style an purpose behind the madness.
10:30 p.m. - I seem to be the only person aboard the S.S. Coachella who doesn’t care about seeing Hot Chip. It’s an equal blend of not getting the hype and being utterly miserable during their Coachella 2007 set, plus much to my chagrin, they returned to play Coachella and seemingly every other festival in the world almost every year. Nevertheless, here I am in the second row of seats. Maybe it’s just impossible to have a bad time at sea, but to my surprise, I am thoroughly enjoying myself as Hot Chip sets up an infectious groove that doesn’t stop rocking the boat. One of the most affecting moments of the cruise comes as Hot Chip covers “Neon Lights”, which we are told has never been done before. Kraftwerk’s original is a moment of humanity amongst their cold robotics, and Hot Chip’s tribute is done with a similarly warm feeling. Sadly, just as with Pulp, the rare subdued moment becomes just another opportunity for inane audience chatter.
11:30 p.m. - Ducking out of Hot Chip after the Kraftwerk cover to beat the crowd to James Murphy? A total miscalculation. In fact, all but ten people are at Hot Chip or elsewhere. I don’t have enough shamelessness left in me to be the only one dancing, especially while alone, so I leave. Outside the Sky Lounge I run into someone I met while queuing for Pulp and we debate whether or not it’s really over for the band. At some point during our conversation, Jarvis Cocker himself has arrived and is standing directly behind me. I consider asking for his thoughts on our theories, but he’s being swarmed by fans. One of my new friends asks for a photo, but by then he’s had enough and declines.
12:00 a.m. - At some point during the conversations enjoyed outside the Sky Lounge, Hot Chip ended and the club promptly filled. I decide to take it easy and check out the Midnight Movies with Girl Talk activity, and find that Open Water has already started. I only stay for a few minutes because it soon sinks in that I’m going to Jamaica in the morning.
Friday, December 21st
Apparently I missed Hot Chip doing a spot-on cover of Prince’s “1999” at the end of their set. Bummer. And I’m told a late night side project secret set that included an R. Kelly cover occurred while I was getting some sleep so I could get up in time for Jamaica, which must be the definition of the first world problem hashtag.
All the excursions seem overpriced at best and tawdry at worst, so we opt for a day of relaxation on a private beach. The taxi driver charges $20 per head, which sounds obscenely expensive for a two-mile ride for four people, but what are we going to do, walk? At least that fare is roundtrip. Our destination is Reggae Beach, which is divided into multiple private beaches, and the one our driver chooses has an entry fee of $9 a person.
If any beach in the world feels like a living, breathing entity, it’s Reggae. The postcard-ready white sands and blue water hypnotize with their magnificence and a gentle breeze lulls us into a state of utter tranquility. Tony Bennett may have left his heart in San Francisco, but it’s half the skin on my knee that Reggae Beach claims. The bright, inviting sea warmed to the perfect swimming temperature? Its floor is a slippery construct with steep, sudden dips and random sharp surfaces scattered throughout, so it’s best to stay in once for as long as possible rather than come and go. “No problem”, right? Maybe it’s the contentment that comes with eating lobster on a secluded paradise, but surprisingly, I agree.
6:00 p.m. – Snowball Bar Crawl: some say the world is ending today, and taking the suggestion of someone from another S.S. Coachella Facebook group, I am dressed for an Escape from New York-style post-apocalypse: black shirt, pants, and an eye patch. Yes, I’m a lazy, uncreative last minute fancy dresser. Call me Snake.
On my way to the basketball court, I take a directional sign too literally and find myself in a small arcade. Everything’s turned on and there isn’t another person in sight, so I wonder if anyone else knows of its existence. Moving on, I find my group, minus two no-shows. A Celebrity staff member has free shooters for us and a letter telling us to go to the card room after exchanging pleasantries and a moderate amount of light chatter. At the card room, our group doubles and we once again get free shooters and exchange our favorite cruise tales.
It could be due to all the free alcohol or maybe I’m just bad at this, but I find it difficult to remember everyone’s names, especially as our group doubles in size three more times at the Ice Bar, Quasar, and finally the Sunset Bar. I’m eternally grateful for the nametags. At the Sunset Bar, we are instructed to look for rubber duckies. Find one, and we win a digital boombox. And no, tattoos do not count. Conversation devolves into a few minutes of half-hearted chair shoving and cushion throwing until everyone gives up. All in all, the activity was a fun way to break out of our established circles and meet new people, and as someone who didn’t purchase a beverage package, the free drinks were much appreciated. Regrettably, the bar crawl conflicted with the Desert Crew event, but I doubt I would have received an answer from the Coachella crew over why they turned away a Lush reunion.
9:00 p.m. - Thanks to the bar crawl, I’m feeling a little too good, so I stake out the same chair I used for Grimes. Always clad in jorts, !!! frontman Nic Offer whips the crowd into a fury, and that includes me. I urge everyone to join me in sweating out to an hour of some of disco punk’s finest. Of all the songs I witness on the cruise, it’s “Jamie, My Intentions Are Bass” that remains lodged in my head for the rest of the week. The burdensome nature of my camera became too much to bear during !!!, so I drop it in my room before surrendering myself to just living in the moment for the rest of the night. The stock lens’ aperture is completely inadequate for that stage, anyway.
10:30 p.m. - “Is that Girl Talk? To your left.” “Eh, I dunno, probably. My response may sound like one of oh-so-hip indifference, but at this point of the trip, such sightings are now too commonplace to raise an eyebrow. This conversation takes place while next to Haley Joel Osment, so there’s also that.
Father John Misty’s J Tillman is a folk-tinged singer-songwriter with a refreshing sense of humor and disdain for the tropes associated with that world. In that sense, he’s like Emmy the Great, who really should be booked to perform and host activities on the next cruise, but I once again digress. At the Sky Lounge, it’s a full on psychedelic rock show, with Tillman’s personal-but-universal tales and between-song quips never losing the easily distracted, increasingly intoxicated crowd.
Yeasayer is next, but we skip their set in favor of lounging by the Mast Bar for a few drinks while listening to another round of beatsmith Tokimonsta doing her thing by the pool below.
1:00 a.m. - Thankfully, the world does not come to an end before Warpaint takes the stage. It’s been a long time since the outfit wowed me at Primavera Sound, so their sets are among my most anticipated. Speaking of long times, it’s also been one since the Los Angeles quartet has played such an intimate stage. Making the occasion even more special is a setlist filled with mostly new material alongside older hypnotizers “Bees”, “Undertow”, and “Elephants”. Without giving too much away, the new songs are as sublimely layered as one would expect from Warpaint and one features Theresa Wayman taking the lead and leaping along with gleeful abandon. All are so potent at invoking a blissful dream state that the wait for the still-unannounced new album has become officially unbearable.
2:30 a.m. - Following a trip to the bathroom, I find one of my friends chatting with Wayman outside the Sky Lounge. After a brief introduction, we head inside to end the night with some punk rock notoriety. I’m too exhausted to focus, however, thanks to a week of minimal sleep and maximal food and booze. After 15 minutes, I declare the Black Lips live experience to be surprisingly tame, and I retire to my chamber for room service and dreaming. Instead, I spend most of the night watching Coachella and vintage episodes of Smallville because I cannot fall asleep. Crowd-surfing and TP-flying madness ensue mere moments after my departure, I’m later told.
Saturday, December 22nd
11:00 am - Essentially a guaranteed meet and greet with Warpaint, It’s a Beautiful Morning is at the top of my to-do list for the S.S. Coachella’s final day. Honestly, 11:00 a.m. is an ungodly hour to be out and about after three days of cruising, but I somehow manage to move my sleepless body to the back of the ship. Like always, breakfast in bed helps. Arriving early, I talk to one worker who reveals that his bar has been going through 120 bottles of vodka per day, as opposed to 32 per cruise. I believe it, because I still feel last night’s glorious poison within me.
A modest turnout of Warpaint diehards brave the morning sun for the opportunity to drink Bloody Marys with the band that wowed them onstage a mere 10 hours ago. One such fan has traveled all the way from Columbia to see the band and he wows them with his spinning panorama camera. Bassist Jenny Lee Lindberg tells me to go ahead and “go for it” in regards to jumping onstage, and drummer Stella Mozgawa invites me and one of my now numerous cruise buddies to sit down for a chat about Jamaica, treating me to a Michelada on the way. Maybe it’s the circumstances, but I find my first Michelada both refreshing and a more palatable alternative to the more traditional Bloody Mary. Most bands are generally gracious when it comes to chatting with their fans and posing for photographs, but Warpaint goes above and beyond what politeness mandates.
1:00 p.m. - While the Lazy Bingo event is described as exactly that — ahem, “lazy” — in reality it’s anything but. Boucher endearingly refers to the O column as “zero”, and calls all numbers surprisingly quick as fans scramble to mark their cards while keeping them from blowing into the sea. The wind could not have picked a worse time to unleash its full fury. Despite my best efforts, my bingo cards fly away, but luckily land in the face of the patron next to me. If you’re reading this, sorry about the ink spot. Two of the four games close with ties, which are decided by dance-offs, and the prize every time is a digital boombox. While Lazy Bingo was a short, pricey event at $5 per bingo card, with almost no chance of winning a prize, it’s almost worth the price of admission alone to witness dance competitions judged by Grimes.
2:30 p.m. - The S.S. Coachella has experienced changes in set times and stages every single day, so this move to the Sky Lounge from the Lawn Club comes as no surprise. Tillman himself makes the announcement over the PA, remarking about singer-songwriters and their inevitability to speak of things blowing in the wind. For this solo acoustic set, Tillman has requested no videos because like Warpaint’s set the night before, new songs are on the agenda. Those new tales prove captivating, but once again it’s “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings” that’s the pleaser of the seated crowd.
3:30 p.m. - The last time I saw Har Mar Superstar live was opening for Beck at a tsunami benefit show in a Hollywood nightclub that appears to no longer exist. My reward for being in the front row was a drop of sweat from our superstar’s armpit dripping directly into my eyeball, so this time I stand behind the 40 or so in attendance, including Goldenvoice president Paul Tollett and Warpaint’s Jenny Lee Lindberg on opposite ends of the front row. It’s not long before he’s stripped down to a pair of potentially obscene shorts while belting out an impressive rendition of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” while lying on his back that I have an epiphany.
This whole time I’ve been making physical and mental notes on the ways the cruise compares and contrasts with the Indio edition, but S.S. Coachella’s closest relative is actually All Tomorrow’s Parties. As is the case with a traditional ATP, fans and artists alike are under one roof mingling and drinking together, except the food and accommodations favor fancy over kitschy. Wine tastings, pub crawls, literary readings, and PowerPoint lectures are not the sort of activities one finds at a traditional festival, nor are surprise performances. This Har Mar Superstar set? It’s actually his second unannounced gig on this cruise.
6:30 p.m. - After a desperately-needed nap, I change clothes and head to the Grand Cuvee for one final proper meal. Dining alone in such a place is slightly depressing, but I’m tired of the buffet. After ordering the prime rib, I spot Tokimonsta and her crew being seated two tables away. Within three bites of my ahi tuna salad, the realization that I may never dine in such a manner at a music festival again, so I savor every bite. Sitting on a spot of grass surrounded by discarded plates just doesn’t compare.
8:30 p.m. – For their second performance, Warpaint uses the same setlist as the previous night for a set that’s equally intoxicating. One fan swears to me that “they rocked it even harder” this time around, and I’m inclined to agree. A moment of shared laughter comes when a pair of bunny ears make it into the hands of Wayman, and after stretching them across her torso, she declares that she does not know what to do with them, so our comedian friend says to wear them as a furry ascot. Wayman obliges. After seeing two mesmerizing sets in under 24 hours and participating in the Beautiful Morning event, I’ve transformed from fan to mega fanboy and hope that Warpaint becomes the cruise’s own Hot Chip or Black Keys in that they play nearly every year.
10:00 p.m. - If it weren’t for dubstep, Sleigh Bells’ style of noise pop would be the front runner for the current generation’s equivalent of nÃ¼-metal. In any case, Alexis Krauss’ infectious energy charms the crowd into a feverish army that rages along to every note.
12:00 a.m. – One of my cruise buddies and I are gorging on Naked Wizard cocktails on the way to Girl Talk when we stumble upon something far more enticing. If you’ve ever attended a Goldenvoice-produced show in Los Angeles and seen a striking poster for sale, it was probably designed by Kii Arens and here in the ship’s art deco foyer he’s hosting a surprise session of karaoke. We rush down in time to catch Tillman serenading the crowd with “I Believe I Can Fly”, followed by Har Mar Superstar’s flashy take on “Careless Whisper”. “Karaoke is the one thing this cruise was missing, but here it is” I remark to Tillman, and he agrees.
Black Lips’ Cole Alexander steals the show with a “fuck you” to Berlin Wall-profiteering David Hasselhoff in the form of Scorpion’s “Wind of Change.” My request of “Last Christmas” never gets granted before the event closes at 2:00 a.m., but that’s okay because I depart for one final trip to the buffet completely satisfied. While at the buffet, I miss !!! and Warpaint covering “Happy X-Mas” in the Sky Lounge. My impeccably bad timing strikes again.
My friends and I came with grand plans of throwing our own parties, yet none of these things ever transpired because we were always too busy having our every need and whim satisfied with above-and-beyond service and style or getting a much-needed three hours of sleep. The lineup and activities were more than impressive enough to justify booking a stateroom, but once aboard, the surprises kept coming. In short, S.S. Coachella is like an ultra-exclusive VIP edition of the Indio festival where everything is only a couple minutes walk or an elevator ride away and there’s no commuting to a tent or hotel at the end of the long night, but most impressive is how the level of intimacy and the number of surprises outdo even All Tomorrow’s Parties. After seven Coachellas on land, two Glastonburys, and visits to Primavera Sound, ATP, Sasquatch!, and FYF, it’s S.S. Coachella that has provided the most fulfilling festival experience yet.