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Coachella on the high seas

When the festival launches a cruise version, there's music and lots of partying —without the hassles.

December 20, 2012|By August Brown, Los Angeles Times
  • Pulp performs at S.S Coachella "Music Festival at Sea."
Pulp performs at S.S Coachella "Music Festival at Sea." (Gabriel Olsen, FilmMagic )

The S.S. Coachella cruise is the exact opposite of what the landlocked Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival is for most fans. Imagine what that weekend in Indio would be like without the parking hassles and dehydration, but instead with breakfast in bed and an entire ecosystem devoted to keeping you drunk at all times.

You get some staple bands of recent landlocked Coachellas — Brit pop veterans Pulp, disco kings Hot Chip and Electro-rockers Yeasayer — and then you drink with them, play cards with them and never once worry about driving home.

The Coachella Festival has staged rock, electronica, hip-hop and indie acts every year since 2001, drawing around 80,000 fans in 2012. But this is the first year promoter Goldenvoice has expanded its festival to a cruise setting, launching two cruises in succession.

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This week the S.S. Coachella sailed with just under 3,000 passengers and 1,000 crew members to the Bahamas for four days of sunburned revelry. The inaugural voyage left Fort Lauderdale on Sunday bound for Nassau and returned Wednesday.

The crowd looked to be essentially the same one from Indio's Coachella VIP tent — that means a ship full of KCRW programming honchos, local booking czars and those lithesome, tank-topped party people. If you were starting a local band, there may be no better networking dollar spent than one that gets you on this boat.

I've covered every Coachella since 2006, so it was kind of heartening to see its patterns and social mores appear in a new setting. The boat was, unsurprisingly, Las Vegas at sea. More the Cosmopolitan than the Golden Nugget, all lovely Art Deco curves and panoramic deck fantasias. There's a lot of Sade and Phil Collins on the Muzak, which means someone knows exactly who the audience is here. Everyone is in a fever dream of yacht rock.

"I enjoy this conceptually," said Josh Tillman, the L.A. singer-songwriter-novelist who performs as Father John Misty, at his fiction reading few nights later. "There are so many things to distract us from the fact that we're in the middle of the … ocean, this vast abyss. Even the deck chairs are facing inward."

The music is the point of being here, and it is also entirely beside the point. Concerts are the organizing principle, but the gawking and boozehounding prove popular. The first of many rich ironies came quickly on Sunday night when Pulp played "Common People" onboard a luxury cruise liner.

The Brit pop laceration of slumming art-school dilettantes was performed to a room of music-biz wheeler-dealers en route to the Bahamas. One more moment of accidental poignancy aboard the S.S. Coachella.

"I've been a Pulp fan for a long time, and I knew this would be something to remember," said Fredrik Larsen, who flew out from Stavanger, Norway for the occasion. "I've been extremely impressed. It's so well run, and you get to see Warpaint hanging out at the bar."

But when Cocker sang the hook of "Common People," with its bleak invitation to dance, drink and have sex "because there's nothing else to do," here it felt more like a rallying cry than a line of desperation. A different class, indeed.

By Monday morning, a satanic hangover seemed to weigh down the crowds. Muscle bros lapped at recuperative micheladas while tottering in the hot tubs; women rubbed their temples behind NASA-grade sunglasses. Whoever booked a raging moombahton DJ for the noon shift deserves a custom-embroidered seat in hell.

As in Indio, daytime is reserved for complaining about your headaches and elegantly wasting sunlight. Sure, you could have played bingo with electro-popstress Grimes, sipped bloody marys with ambient rockers Warpaint or got sassed out at the noise-rap duo Sleigh Bells' nail salon, but like the terrestrial Coachella, to try to do it all is to do none of it well.

The most authentic way to spend the afternoon was probably with your shoes off under a white tent on the upper deck lawn (a nice touch that purposefully evoked the Polo Fields turf) with a mimosa in your twitching hand.

By Monday night the S.S. Coachella was on open water, gently gliding to the Bahamian coast with a thick slice of orange moon as the only light.

Disco revivalist and LCD Soundsystem frontman James Murphy's wine-tasting seminar was the evening's hot ticket, but a concurrent Goldenvoice panel was well-attended and surprisingly candid. It featured several upper-brass staffers at Goldenvoice and KCRW's Jason Bentley.

Give Goldenvoice honcho Paul Tollett credit — he knows how fans feel. "You need a full weekend. By Day 3, you're tired, you're hungry, and you're cursing Coachella. But then the sun sets and you're like, 'Oh, that's what this is all about.'"

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