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

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Things begin gently at 11:30 a.m. in the Shangri-La Lounge, a smaller venue with giant swirls of lights on the ceiling and a swirly patterned carpet to match. Bruisers crowd in for the Puppets & Pancakes breakfast performance by New Orleans' Miss Pussycat, a psychedelic cruise story with ornate hand puppets on a tiny stage. The protagonist is an extraterrestrial being who thinks she has supermodel looks (she does not). A run-in with the Coast Guard turns into a bloody fight, complete with puppet blood created out of fabric spewing forth, and some of these characters live weirdly ever after. The audio is at a pleasant level, and sleepy bruisers demolish the sizable trays of Danishes during what feels very much like one of Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood's puppet shows on acid.

As the afternoon goes on, Turbo Fruits and Surfer Blood both set up in the small Shangri-La, but it's hard to match the intensity of the sizable Xanadu. Plus, many of the bruisers are topside working on their tans and forgetting that this whole affair was supposed to feel subversive.

About 4 p.m., the Imagination's Verandah Deck becomes the setting of a Black Lips' video for "Go Out and Get It," from their forthcoming album Arabia Mountain. Curious onlookers, photographers, and fellow musicians gather around the Lips as they clown around near the ship's back railing. Lip-synching with an ice cream cone, drummer Joe Bradley is thrust into frontman role as his bandmates thrash around next to him. The song plays quietly on a pair of iPod speakers, so no one standing more than a couple of feet away can hear it, creating a kooky pantomime scene. A few familiar temptresses in swimsuits, as well as the Vivian Girls, who were posing for photographs nearby, join in. Meanwhile, some dude goes down the water slide in a business suit, dry-cleaning bill be damned.

With the cameras still running, Swilley, who had already stirred up a fuss at Señor Frog's, holds his precious electric bass close to the edge of the railing. Then, with a sudden heave, he sends it overboard in a high arc. It's a beautiful and destructive thing all at once. The folks sitting on the "adults only" Serenity Deck below look weirded out.

At 5:30 p.m., just over 14 hours until the Imagination is due back in Miami on Monday, the best-attended event of the entire cruise begins in the Xanadu Lounge. It's the first open bar, and a legion of tray-carrying wait staff circulates with fruity cocktails, wine, and Bud Light Limes. Double- and triple-fisting is a common affair. Some enterprising bruisers swig away at white-wine bottles filled with whiskey (nothing stronger than wine is allowed in luggage).

Onstage, Thee Oh Sees' John Dwyer and Brigid Dawson sing the unflappable garage-rock anthem "Enemy Destruct" that is a crowd-pleasing fixture of every performance they've done as part of this cruise. "This one's called 'Eight-Dollar Drink,' " Dwyer jokingly says midset, referring to the steep cocktail prices.

Dinner in the Pride Dining Room follows with surprisingly little fanfare compared to the open bar that preceded it. A survey of diners reveals an assortment of bruises on thumbs, forearms, and thighs. Two couples say they're retiring to their room to watch the Oscars, but most are content to maintain their buzz with the aid of the now-open duty-free liquor store. Two bottles of Crown Royal ring in at a tidy $35.

About 9 p.m., an employee of the music-streaming service Grooveshark carries a bucket of Bud Lights into a cabin that actually has a window. Unlike many of the bruisers, who professed they wouldn't be spending much time in the room, this dwelling looks thoroughly occupied, with blankets strewn every which way, empty bottles lining countertops, and plastic glasses from the poolside bar turned into ashtrays. Purple-bagged bottles of Crown Royal get passed around the smoky room.

The Strange Boys' baby-faced singer, Ryan Sambol, sits on a stool shirtless with his arm resting on the room's small desk and is getting a tattoo with a pin and ballpoint pen. He remarks, "I love me some tattoos, but I hate me some hepatitis." His new ink spells out "GINA" on his right shoulder. He jokes that while he's receiving this devotional to her, "she's probably sleeping with some stranger right now."

All the while, Andy Cross, a young man with shaggy brown hair and several tattoos on his arms — obtained the way Sambol gets his — sits on the bed next to Sambol and explains how he got to the Bruise Cruise from New Orleans. By posting a flier in a coffee shop, he and his buddy Chris, who's currently inking up Sambol, found a generous woman fresh out of a bad relationship who liked Lil Wayne mixtapes. She was willing to drive 14 hours, and "we gave her $7."

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Reed Fischer
Contact: Reed Fischer

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