Jam Cruise 18: 12 Memorable Moments From Days 4 & 5
There’s nothing more depressing aboard Jam Cruise than the lights and skyscrapers of Miami coming into focus just before sunrise on the final day of the trip. Yet, in the words of the great Dr. Seuss, “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.” There were plenty of smiles to be had over the final days of Jam Cruise 18, which took place on Friday and Saturday aboard the MSC Divina.
Having spent 11 summers of my childhood at sleepaway camp, I think summer camp is an apt metaphor for Jam Cruise and never moreso than the final evening when the time comes to say farewell to friends you’ve met and the few last ya-ya’s are gotten. Obviously, we’re talking a summer camp for adults and live music fans as opposed to kids, though a number of youngsters attended this year and seemed to have a great time. The end of the trip was an odd one, as high winds forced organizers to move most Pool Deck sets to other areas of the ship. Thankfully, the production team came through and all sets went off including a number of memorable sets in the intimate atrium that were originally scheduled for the Pool Deck.
Tank & The Bangas
One thing I particularly love about the music of Tank and the Bangas is just how diverse it is. One minute they are playing a pretty lullaby with gorgeous flow from frontwoman Tarriona “Tank” Ball and the next they are performing a tune so slamming it makes Rage Against The Machine seem like Yacht Rock. While the Grammy-nominated band focused on harder-edged material during their theater set on day two, they went a more mellow route for a stunning sail away set on Friday as the MSC Divina departed Costa Maya, Mexico. Each of the musicians is ridiculously talented and the vocalists have booming voices and killer dance moves. Here’s hoping they come away from this month’s Grammys with the Best New Artist award.
When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. Charlottesville, Virginia string band Love Canon were dealt a tough hand when dobroist Jay Starling’s heart went out of rhythm just before Jam Cruise left. Starling was hospitalized and his mates continued on without a huge part of their sound. The band, sans Jay, spent most of the voyage rearranging their songs for a set that would be held outdoors on the Brews At Sea Stage. However, the wind wouldn’t relent and just before Love Canon took the stage they learned the entire Pool Deck, including the Brews At Sea Stage, was closed. The band would not be denied and performed their brand of bluegrass-tinged ’80s covers in a hallway outside the Pool Deck. Those lucky enough to stumble upon the performance were treated to outstanding renditions of such songs as Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me,” Olivia Newton-John’s “Physical,” Don Henley’s “The Boys Of Summer” and ZZ Top’s “Legs.” The crowd sang along to each one and Love Canon was joined by members of Sweet Lillies for “Islands In The Stream” and “Africa.” The group was at their best in delivering an outstanding version of Billy Joel’s “Prelude/Angry Young Man” and a take on Peter Gabriel’s “Solsbury Hill” that included a beautiful outro they wrote and worked into the cover.
Cris Jacobs Band
Boy, does Cris Jacobs know how to craft a tune. The Baltimore-based singer-songwriter and his band provided a majestic rock show at the club-like Black & White Lounge on Friday night. Many guests passed through including Lebo (Dan Lebowitz), Ivan Neville and Tony Hall. The Cris Jacobs Band focused mainly on originals though they did treat the crowd to a cover of the Motown classic “Don’t Do It” akin to The Band’s version. At one point, bassist Todd Herrington took a solo that shook the room and was among the most powerful of the trip — and we’re talking about a cruise that included two sets from Les Claypool. Cris noted they would show off a softer side of their sound during a Garden Pool set on Saturday, but sadly I didn’t make it over there. I’m excited to see more of this band as soon as possible.
Turkuaz & Friends Perform Parliament Album
One of the most highly anticipated sets coming into Jam Cruise 18 was what was listed as “Turkuaz & Friends Perform Mystery Album.” Just after midnight on Friday night/Saturday morning, Jam Cruisers finally found out what the mystery album was. Turkuaz loaded the stage for a complete performance of Parliament’s 1977 LP Funkentelechy Vs. The Placebo Syndrome. Consisting of six songs, the band was joined by nearly all of Ghost-Note, Karl Denson, Ivan Neville, Nikki Glaspie and more during their take on Funkentelechy. In fact, by my count, there were 19 musicians on stage as part of the otherworldly “Bop Gun (Endangered Species)” that kicked off the performance of the album. Denson capably handled lead vocals on the opening track before Turkuaz’s own Josh Schwartz led the ensemble through “Sir Nose d’Voidoffunk (Pay Attention – B3M).” Kudos to the Ghost-Note guys for dressing the part in onesies. The performance of the LP came to a close with a wild and wooly “Flash Light” in which confetti cannons were set off upon the final notes.
Joe Marcinek Jam Room
Joe Marcinek isn’t just a great guitarist, he’s also a great guy. So it should come as no surprise musicians from around the boat came out in force when he hosted the Jam Room on the penultimate night of the trip. Marcinek’s Jam Room performance began at 2:30 a.m. with Joe backed by George Porter Jr. on bass, Tommy Shugart on organ and Evan Thibeault on drums for an original titled “George.” Then, the ensemble tore through the Dead’s “Franklin’s Tower” featuring a smoking solo from guitarist Peter Stelling that the band segued into “Sugaree.” Additional highlights were Tony Hall, Adam Deitch, Marcus King and members of Ghost-Note backing Joe on The Temptations’ “Shakey Ground” as well as a “Shakedown Street” featuring Nikki Glaspie on drums and Tony Hall on vocals, a cover of Sly’s “If You Want Me To Stay” with Casey Russell on keys, jams with members of Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, a rap from Perpetual Groove frontman Brock Butler and a frenetic “Turn On Your Love Light” played around 6 a.m. in the morning. Yes, Joe Marcinek’s Jam Room went until nearly 6 a.m. For comparison’s sake, Karina Rykman closed out her Jam Room at 4:20.
After the Pool Deck was closed towards the end of Friday night, the wind died down enough that organizers opened the outdoor space at noon on Saturday for a set from Montana-based string band Kitchen Dwellers. The group was the first to perform on the final day of the trip and made their 60-minute set count. Kitchen Dwellers showed off songs from their recently released Muir Maid LP and delivered a top-notch cover of Ween’s “Transdermal Celebration.” The band ended their set by welcoming Twiddle frontman Mihali for their collaboration, “Visions Of Mohr.”
Guitarist Cory Wong was supposed to play on the Pool Deck but the aforementioned high winds forced a move to the atrium. As with moe., Wong and his band made the best of the situation and delivered an exceptional set at the bottom of a huge crystal staircase that spans three levels. Jam Cruisers found every piece of real estate they could to watch the Vulfpeck member in action for a performance that included such killer originals as “The Optimist,” “Team Sports,” “Welcome 2 Minneapolis” and “Cosmic Sans.” Wong can shred with the best of ’em, but he also plays in a nuanced style that fits more mellow material as well. Each member of his band, including the Philly Horns wowed and a standout moment came with the fitting “Friends At Sea,” a song he wrote as part of a project with legendary saxophonist Dave Koz. Dave Koz & Friends At Sea is the saxophonist’s own cruise and one which Wong has attended and played in the past. Cory told JamBase that while the audiences are different in composition both trip’s attendees are just looking for peak musical experiences. Another highlight of the set was Wong and company’s cover of the Steely Dan classic “Peg” that segued into “Aja.”
Wait Wait…Don’t Jam Me!
One of many elements that sets Jam Cruise apart from other events are the musically-themed activities it hosts. One such activity was Wait Wait…Don’t Jam Me, a JC-centric version of NPR’s game show Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me. Alex Greer and Seth Weiner served as co-hosts while the panelists included myself, Tank and Cory Wong and the house band included Marcinek, moe. drummer Vinnie Amico, bassist Matt Lapham and a keyboardist. The band would vamp on grooves as Greer and Weiner asked the panelists and contestants questions about what went down on Jam Cruise up until that point. Wong felt uncomfortable on stage without a guitar in his hands, so Marcinek kindly gave Cory his guitar. All three panelists answered each question correctly, while the actual contestants didn’t do so hot. Fun was had throughout.
Marcus King Superjam
Guitarist Marcus King enlisted Lettuce keyboardist Nigel Hall to help him put together the Superjam for Jam Cruise 18. The theme was “disco” and the pair went the deep cut route as they enlisted the likes of drummer Adam Deitch, keyboardist Adam MacDougall, bassist Kevin Scott, the Turkuaz Horns, Roosevelt Collier, Chali 2na, Nicki Bluhm, Karina Rykman, Ivan Neville, Luther Dickinson, members of Ghost-Note, Cris Jacobs and more to roll on and off stage throughout the 90-minute performance. Highlights included renditions of The O’Jays’ “Family Reunion,” Heatwave’s “Boogie Nights” and Tower Of Power’s “What Is Hip?” Kudos to Nigel and Marcus for crafting a fantastic Superjam.
Pigeons Playing Ping Pong
Video captured by azherbboy
Pigeons Playing Ping Pong were the penultimate band to play in the MSC Divina’s gorgeous theater. The Baltimore-based quartet embraced Jam Cruise’s collaborative spirit and loaded their performance with guest spots. Lotus percussionist Chuck Morris augmented the group through most of their set, which included Cory Wong and the Philly Horns adding to a run of “King Kong” into “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” into “King Kong.” Cory and Chuck stuck around for a triumphant “Poseidon,” while Wong wailed away on “Lightning.” Pigeons ended their time on Jam Cruise with “Dawn A New Day” from their forthcoming Presto LP following “The Liquid” and “Horizon.”
Electron was another band whose Pool Deck set was moved to the atrium with great success. Guitarist Tom Hamilton, bassist Marc Brownstein, drummer Mike Greenfield and keyboardist Aron Magner provided a two-hour dance party in the unusual and incredibly cool setting. What makes how good this set was even more impressive was that Brownie was dealing with issues that hindered his vision and led to emergency surgery. The quartet opened with “Little Lai” and kept the focus on songs Brownie wrote during his brief time out of The Disco Biscuits in 2000 such as “Shelby Rose” and “Kamaole Sands.” Electron also delivered a wild “Confrontation” sandwich featuring “Naeba,” “Miracles,” “42” and “Humuhumunukunukuapua’a” within. In keeping with tradition, the four-piece closed out the memorable set by covering Pink Floyd as they ended their performance with “Comfortably Numb.”
It’s been quite some time since Galactic switched featured vocalists. For the past few years, Erica Falls held down the role but this year the band teamed with , best known as Tank’s counterpart in Tank & The Bangas. Joseph brought the ruckus any time she was on stage and really got the audience into it. Galactic also played a few tunes with NOLA legend Walter ‘Wolfman’ Washington. In keeping with their tradition, the band closed out the theater and their set with a particularly slow and groovy number. Still not sure why they end the trip by performing a slow song, but I’d imagine they have their reasons.
Stay tuned for more Jam Cruise coverage including interviews recorded aboard the boat for The JamBase Podcast.