Last night when my friend and I boarded the U.S.S. Half Moon at the 23rd Street Skyport Marina, we had the same thing on our mind: drowning. As we crowded onto the bow of the upper deck, where every one of the 100 or so passengers had congregated to seemingly smoke at the same time, it seemed possible that the “yacht” might very well tip over and take a dive. “At least we’ll get on the news,” I offered consolingly.
Luckily, the Half Moon proved seaworthy. And for the next three hours we defied capsizing and enjoyed our virgin Rocks Off concert cruise, which was helmed, so to speak, by three of the catchiest indie-pop bands ever to float down the sewage-stinky East River.
As we pulled away from the pier, Drug Rug took the stage. I had been wanting to see this Cambridge, Mass. quartet again ever since I caught their Bowery set at last year’s CMJ. Unfortunately, though, I mostly missed them. I had ventured below deck with Sam Champion’s Noah Chernin and Jack Dolgen, who were kindly giving away green beer cozies (or is it “coozy”) to commemorate their forthcoming album “Heavenly Bender,” due out Sept. 2. A few short minutes later, we could hear Drug Rug’s jangle, muffled by the floor that separated us, come to an abrupt stop. Which meant it was time for the boys of Sam Champion to head back upstairs.
“You gotta play with your feet spread apart, like an athletic stance, so you don’t fall down,” Dolgen told me in parting.
Prescient words, as the boat started truly rocking and rolling shortly into the Sam Champion set. It felt like we were entering the open sea, surfing the swells of the perfect storm—or maybe just the wake of a really big barge. Or maybe it was just Champion vibrations.
As the local quartet grooved, we cruised under the three bridges that separate Manhattan from Brooklyn, above the countless cement-loafered corpses, and by two of the Olafur Eliasson waterfalls. The Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Watchtower informed us in red neon that it was a mild 23 degrees Celsius—that’s 73 degrees Farenheit to you and me—the perfect temperature to mix sightseeing in with dancing to live music. You really couldn’t ask for much more.
But there was more. Sam Champion, with the help of auxiliary percussionist Joe Russo, continued to keep the ladies dancing and singing along—and the men nodding their heads with feeling—with their soon-to-be-released songs, many of which have been in their rotation for years.
And then we hit the apex of the cruise—Lady Liberty. Even the most skeptical looked up in something akin to awe at the monumental mother of our freedom. And a trio of schwilly girls made the moment even more poignant with an a cappella version of the Bangles’ “Eternal Flame.” Francis Scott Key would have been proud.
As the boat flipped a bitch, Apollo Sunshine replaced Sam Champion on the linoleum stage. The Massachusetts threesome—celebrating the release of their “Shall Noise Upon” record—lived up to their name, launching into an hour of bright and shiny power-pop that served as a sweet dessert to Sam Champion’s main course. Or was Sam Champion the appetizer, and Apollo Sunshine the entrée? What would that make Drug Rug—an amuse bouche? Doesn’t matter. It all tasted good, washed down with more red neon courtesy of Long Island City’s Pepsi-Cola just before we docked.