Courtney Love at House of Blues, 8/2/2013

Courtney Love House of Blues August 2, 2013

It was always a little puzzling to me that Courtney Love didn't do more acting. She was quite good opposite Woody Harrelson in The People vs. Larry Flynt, but I suspect eventually she found the business of being "Courtney Love" too exhausting to pursue much of a film career. But for those of us who enjoyed the handful of albums Hole put out in the '90s, especially Live Through This, it's enough that she's decided to keep being a musician.

Between her autobiography and new fashion line, that is. Still, firing on enough cylinders to reach a comfortable cruising speed -- and nowhere close to approaching the onstage meltdown some were perhaps hoping for -- Love gave a half-full House of Blues an uneven but quite entertaining 90 minutes and change Friday night.

Her five-piece band was straight out of alt-rock central casting: the "Jesus" (or the "Vedder"), the "greaser," the "bedhead," the "boy shag," and the "drummer." They certainly acted the part, arriving at sort of Nirvana/Social Distortion hybrid that was serviceable more than spectactular. But if their principal task was carry their fearless leader from song to song, they pulled it off like champs.

Courtney, meanwhile, was in fine form from the word go. She upbraided her poor roadie before a note had even been struck, instructing him the guitar around her neck "can't be just a big wooden necklace." Very Bette Davis, she lit a cigarette before "Gold Dust Woman," her first of three or four. One song later, she announced "you guys are so stoned on pot you're the worst audience I've ever had."

She blew kisses, she threw rose petals, she announced, "It's my birthday and I'm drunk" before calling for a snort of tequila.

Love was loose all right, but not sloppy. No one will ever mistake her for a great singer, but a great screamer is another matter. She can even scream in key, which is what really gives songs like opener "Plump," "Skinny Little Bitch" and "Asking For It" their bite. She could also surf on a riff like "Violet" all night long, and nearly did.

But as many cues as she takes from Stevie Nicks (or would like to), it's a little harder to buy into her poppier songs. Despite the melodic highlights of "Malibu" or "Letter to God," she just doesn't sell being a tortured soul nearly as well as she does being flat-out pissed. That's what makes "Jennifer's Body" so great -- there's real bile in there, and Love doesn't skimp on the delivery.

This back and forth went on for a bit, until "Celebrity Skin" was the one song that felt truly fleshed-out and complete, hummable and angry. It was also the last song of the set. "You know what to do if you want us back," Love told the crowd.

Well, she came back, first with just the guy who had been switching to acoustic guitar when called for (or "bedhead"). They did did the Rolling Stones' "Under My Thumb," which I thought was an inspired choice. Tackling a song where Mick Jagger -- uber-catty on his most magnanimous day -- purrs about a woman being the "sweetest pet in the world" created a lot of lines to be read between, and Courtney didn't disappoint.

She treated the rest of the encore like band practice, asking for the first line of "Softer, Softest" (but nailing the rest of it), rocking out on "Beautiful Son" and really digging down deep for Celebrity Skin's hypnotic, psych-Zeppelin throb "Use Once & Destroy." She hadn't played that song since the '90s, Love said.

It must have met with the proper approval by the crowd (which was, myself included, won over at this point), because then she deigned to bless us with "Doll Parts," the song she's spent more than one interview this tour insisting she's totally fine not playing.

Just one more example of Courtney being Courtney. It's a full-time job.

Personal Bias: I suspect I may be the rare journalist who finds Courtney Love more interesting as a musician than as a personality. I don't really want to hang out with her, but enjoy watching her onstage.

The Crowd: Two-to-one female-to-male, scattered body-art/skinny-jean types but heavy on normals. Wonder if Courtney would be disappointed in that.

Overheard In the Crowd: "Marissssssa!!!!!" Not sure what that was all about.

Random Notebook Dump: I wish Siouxie & the Banshees would get back together.


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