Hipsters Dancing on a Boat

juan_maclean.jpgAfter COBRA was defeated, Destro was free to focus on his true love: music

The Rocks Off Concert Cruise has the worst name in the world, but it's a fun idea: you get on boat, boat takes you down the West River, band plays on boat, you get off boat. Most of its schedule is dominated by stuff like the Sublime cover band Badfish and Shootz Groove, whatever that is. Ska bands seem to do a lot of business with the Rocks Off people. The whole experience is pretty weird: you walk all the way down to the west end of 41st street and walk out onto a dock, and that's where you finally see a bunch of standard black-suit club bouncers. The boat itself is mostly one big indoor room; I'm guessing it gets used for business lunches or after-prom parties most of the time. There are a couple of bars where they sell cans of Budweiser for $5 and a weird deli-tray table where you can get a plate of chicken and rigatoni for another $5. The boat has three small outdoor decks, and that's where most of the people go when the band isn't playing, since the indoor room is surrounded by windows and skylights, which means it gets really hot in there before the sun goes down. The bouncers all stand around and drink; I'm not sure exactly why they're even on the boat, since it's not like they can bounce anyone off it. The boat leaves the dock and goes down the West River, and the view is just beautiful almost immediately. When it gets dark, it's even better. The boat takes you closer to the Statue of Liberty than I'd ever been, close enough that you can really see that the walking Statue in Ghostbusters 2 probably wouldn't have been big enough to smash its torch through that museum skylight. And then the boat turns around and goes back up the river, and the band starts playing.

There's no stage in the room, just an area where all the equipment is and an banner that says "Rocks Off" really big. The band last night was the Juan Maclean, and their equipment was already all set up on the floor of the indoor room before the boat left the dock. You'd think they'd be the perfect band for a cruise like this, since their twerked-up hazy narco-dance is music that might as well have been specifically designed for looking at buildings at night. You'd be right; even the DFA remix stuff they were pumping in before the band came out sounded incredible with all those lights shining out the window. But the boat was only at about one-third capacity; maybe you just can't get hipster kids to go all the way up to 41st Street, or maybe nobody wanted to buy $25 tickets, or maybe the Juan Maclean has already played like five NYC shows this year. Still, I'd never seen them, and it was pretty easy to forget all that other stuff when they actually started playing.

In this interview, Maclean talks a lot about his live show, how he came up through hardcore and how he thinks live shows should be visceral and immediate instead of polite and removed. And last night's show on a boat had some of that, though I'm not sure how much of it was because of the band. The crowd put on more of a show than the band, cramming onto the floor and absolutely bugging out for everything even though there weren't enough people on board to come anywhere near filling up the boat. It was hard to even see the band most of the time, since there wasn't any stage, and it reminded me a bit of VFW Hall punk shows, the band playing a foot away from everybody while everyone dances hard. And this was some furiously dorky dancing; sitting up on the second floor and looking down, it also looked a bit like a middle-school dance. I especially liked the jocky-looking guy in back with the white baseball cap and the popped collar, just tearing it up. The Juan Maclean is a DFA band, of course, and this looked like a hipster crowd other than the popped-collar dude, but the dancing wasn't the look-at-me kind; it was more the bugging-out kind, people putting their hands in the air and jumping up and down whenever the tracks hit their fizzy peaks. It was fun.

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And the band was pretty great. Less Than Human has aged better than the LCD Soundsystem album (no obnoxious vocals!), and "Give Me Every Little Thing" is that rare dance single that I just unequivically love, so it wasn't a problem that the band's arrangements sounded pretty much just like the record. And there's something to be said for hearing these songs played really loud while the people making the noises are standing right next to you. Other than drums, the band didn't use any non-electronic instruments. They had synths and drum-pads and box-widget things that I didn't recognize; one guy's job was to switch back and forth between Themerin and keytaur, which is mind-boggling. Hearing this stuff while looking out the window at Manhattan is a good way to spend your night.

Bonus beats: There's a 7-11 right where you get off the boat on 41st Street, which will be good news to anyone lamenting the fact that you can't buy a damn Slurpee anywhere in this city.

Voice review: Nick Sylvester on the Juan Maclean's Less Than Human

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