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Carnival's Bruise Cruise Lets Loose 400 Garage Rock Fans Onto a Cruise Ship

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No one enjoys this performance more than Eric Kolkey. He and his wife, Michelle, are both wearing Vivian Girls T-shirts but are old enough to be the parents of many of the bruisers. Kolkey, AKA Eric Nihilist, was a promoter and booking agent in Chicago between the late '70s and early '80s. He happily recalls booking the Ramones, the Damned, and the Dead Kennedys. He was interviewed for You Weren't There: A History of Chicago Punk 1977-1984, a documentary detailing the glory years of that scene. Now the 50-year-old works for Rothschild, a downtown investment firm in the Windy City.

Like most of their fellow bruisers, this is the first time the couple has ever wanted to go on a cruise. "Not to pump anything up, but we're fairly well off at our jobs," he says. "We're certainly a demographic the cruise would be more than happy to capture. We're buying lots of booze, spending lots of money. These bands brought us here, and it's worked out for everybody."

For Michelle, who works for Motorola, the importance is the quality of the bands on the cruise: "When I go to Pitchfork and Lollapalooza, I always see a lot of bands that I think suck. Why stand around all day seeing a bunch of bands on big stages that you think are lame when you can see these guys who are great?"

"And, of course," Eric butts in, "if you're completely in love with a certain band, like I am with the Vivian Girls..."

"You can stalk them," Michelle says with a glint in her eye.

"It's a crazed fan's dream," he adds. "You're on a boat, and they can't get away."

Around 4 p.m., journalists and photographers gather on the boat's outdoor Verandah Deck to photograph Surfer Blood in the water park, with all sorts of children — and a dude with earlobe plugs the size of Oreos — speeding past on the winding yellow slide behind them. The sun is beating down, so Pitts borrows sunglasses from one of the journalists. And if anyone's forgotten the name of this little boat adventure, his lower lip is bulging with a stitched-up gash.

Pitts bruised his face and ego Thursday evening at the Bruise Cruise Kickoff Party at Grand Central in Miami. All nine Bruise Cruise acts took part in the messy, seven-hour show, which was in itself festival-worthy and gave the local public a chance to experience every act for a much more reasonable sum. When it was the Vivian Girls' turn to play, Pitts suddenly was overtaken with the need to do something communal to engage the crowd. During what was arguably not one of the most intense moments of the night, he came out from backstage and took a quick dive into the front row. No one caught him. He hit his head pretty solidly.

"I've made this mistake so many times where I misjudge the enthusiasm of the crowd," he says while reclining near the water slides. "Or their capability of lifting a large object, e.g. me... There's a ten-minute period of my life I don't remember. It wasn't the alcohol, I promise."

If this fall provided any sort of deterrent for Pitts' future behavior, it isn't apparent once the bruisers unload past the towering ships and enter through Nassau's port for the evening at Señor Frog's. He sticks the landing on several leap-frogging attempts over band manager Rich Weiss on the dance floor.

And the awkward staredown between Black Lips' Swilley and the Señor Frog's MC continues. Some unamplified words are exchanged but no lewd gestures. Soon, the man relents and exits the stage, and the relieved crowd moves closer. Now, much like the Kickoff Party, the sea of people with pink bruiser wristbands in the room releases pent-up aggression in a friendly mosh pit as the Lips unpack a set of rollicking sing-alongs like the doo-wop-inspired "Bad Kids."

Midway through, guitarist Cole Alexander advises the crowd, "Do not date-rape anyone, because that happens way too much here."

On Sunday, the Bruise Cruise begins its journey back to Miami, and it's hard to tell who is and isn't experiencing a rolling blackout. If there's wine left in the room, this is the time to drink it. By this point, any lines separating the artists and the cruisers have melted like the ice from five cocktails ago.

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Reed Fischer
Contact: Reed Fischer

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