Early next year, hundreds of fans will have their ears battered by the blown-out garage-rock of San Francisco artists Ty Segall and Thee Oh Sees. But instead of this aural assault going down at a dive bar, a bowling alley, a basement, or a random drive-in theater in Mexico like they usually do, it will take place on a cruise ship — a giant gleaming Carnival vacation boat chugging from Miami to the Bahamas. The live music and all-but-assured mayhem will fill three days, with regular shows aboard and a big concert held upon arrival in Nassau, where conga lines are mandatory between sets. (Seriously.)
This is the first-ever Bruise Cruise, a bizarre vacation package that puts a handful of today's better garage-rock acts (Black Lips, Vivian Girls, and Strange Boys, along with our locals) on a big boat with 2,000 other family vacationers and grin-wearing seniors. The preteens and wrinkled elders will be sharing deckchairs, waterslides, and buffet tables with the animals who play in these notoriously unruly bands, such as the chaos engine that is John Dwyer, lead singer and songwriter of Thee Oh Sees, and their sometimes even more unruly fans. Dwyer, of course, is thrilled. "How could that suck?" he exclaims on a recent Friday afternoon. "Old people go on cruises, and I think old people know where it's at."
The man has a point. The idea behind the Bruise Cruise was partly to make the laid-back atmosphere of a cruise attractive to the twenty- and thirtysomethings who listen to these bands, says Michelle Cable, an indie-rock booking agent who dreamed up the idea with a colleague.
"I feel personally that a lot of festivals are a little mundane, a little redundant — everything is kind of the same," she says. "I liked the idea of putting together something a little more off-kilter. I've always wanted to go on a cruise ... but a normal cruise clientele is not a demographic that you want to hang out with for three or four days."
Now, lots of bands do cruises these days. Like the Backstreet Boys. Or New Kids on the Block. There's even a 70,000 Tons of Metal cruise next year that features Bay Area metalheads Testament, along with dozens more bands with ominous names and sharp-looking logos. But those artists mostly appeal to an older and/or wealthier fan base — people you can pretty easily picture playing shuffleboard.
So the idea of having 400 cutoff-wearing, greasy haired, tattoo-sleeved slop-rock fans on a cruise ship — at a cost of about $500 each — is completely nuts. It's as crazy as having Taylor Swift perform at 924 Gilman. Or Ted Nugent play the Folsom Street Fair. It wraps the mind in knots. And the bands were totally into it.
"There's going to be 2,000 other people that are not even part of the Bruise Cruise," Segall says excitedly. "There's going to be families on vacation, dealing with a bunch of crazy rockers getting wasted all the time on a boat. It's going to be hilarious."
For Segall and Dwyer, who are playing some dates in Florida together after the cruise, the attraction to play on Bruise Cruise was greater than just getting to see rock dudes mesh with middle-class families. (Cable says the cruise line researched the bands playing, and has had events on board "even wilder than ours.") It wasn't about money, either — neither Segall nor Dwyer seemed to know exactly how much they'll be paid or how many shows they'll play over the three days.
It turns out these guys just really wanted to go on a cruise. "We're getting the ticket [to get] on the ship, which really is, to me, worth the whole thing," Segall says. "I never in my life would be able to afford any such thing." Once Dwyer heard about it, he insisted on going. "That's the whole point of the band, to do as many free trips as we can," he says half-jokingly.
Like most of the acts on the Bruise Cruise, Segall and Thee Oh Sees tour a lot — Segall is going to Europe this fall, and Dwyer's band has played all over. But come February, these artists' venue will finally match the why-the-fuck-not attitude of their music. The other 2,000 people on that boat should be warned.
The Bruise Cruise runs Feb. 25-28; www.bruisecruisefestival.com.