Hole House of Blues July 6, 2010
It wasn't a train wreck. And we all had such high hopes.
Courtney Love and the four-man retinue she calls Hole these days - mostly distinguishable by their wardrobe (dreadlocked drummer, Scally-capped keyboardist/guitarist, and so forth), but who carried their share of the load - went onstage at 10:10 p.m. Tuesday night, a mere 25 minutes after their scheduled time.
And to the strains of Maurice Ravel's castanet-flouting aural-sex orchestral workout "Bolero," no less. It was the first sign of several that anyone who showed up expecting a show on the order of Love's June 27 meltdown at Washington, D.C.'s 9:30 Club, which you may have read about (and may not be entirely true), was going to be sorely disappointed.
But she had a little something for those folks, too. "I couldn't find a bra, so there was some panic," Love said before anyone had played a note. "Hi, Texas."
Hi, Courtney. Hi, "Pretty On the Inside," the title track to Hole's 1991 debut LP - well, the fragment that came and went in about as much time as Love decided she'd rather play the Rolling Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil" instead. Or as much of it as she appeared to remember, anyway, which was about half.
Firm footing came with the power-grunge sneer of "Skinny Little Bitch," the centerpiece of this year's Nobody's Daughter and the first song that showed off Love's greatest asset: Not the little-black-dress-clad body still firmer than it has any right to be, especially when it took that monitor-straddling stance it kept for most of the night; not the platinum hair that could have been a wig and looked like one but probably wasn't.
Not the bird-flipping attitude that came directly after the song: "I have to blow my nose... It's the humidity... Shut up."
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Of course it's the humidity. Us Houstonians know all about that. But truthfully, it was The Scream - Love's vocal-chord roar that she should have patented a long time ago and should have been shredded to smithereens (blown?) along about 1998's Celebrity Skin.
But there it was, bursting into bloom on the jackhammer chorus of "Miss World," ripening on the punkier "Violet" and coasting through a game attempt at Nina Simone's "Feelin' Good" that came back to bite everyone on the ass on a wicked, Black Sabbath-y "One More Time" that threw Madonna (who can also sing the blues), Big Mama Thornton and the Wicked Witch of the West into an industrial Sunbeam blender.
Speaking of industrial, Love also rasped her way through a passable cover of alt-tabloid running buddy Trent Reznor's "Closer." She could have talked about Twitter all she wanted by then, and she did (take a bow, @famousrichard), and it wouldn't have mattered.
Daughter's "Pacific Coast Highway" replaced a Seattle snarl that was far from finished with some earthy R.E.M. strum that cruised through Skin's "Petals" - which Love claimed she hadn't sung live since that album's release - and reached Led Zeppelin levels when the orange crush of the new "Somebody Else's Bed" rolled around about an hour later.
Detouring: "Celebrity Skin" fired on all cylinders, as anthemic as the evening got and a reminder that, at her best, Love is as self-aware as she is self-loathing; "Girls Like You" (guess the line that's about Gavin Rossdale, y'all) brandished Joan Jett while entropy gnawed at the edges; Leonard Cohen's "Take This Longing" framed Love as a torch singer threatening to make the whole room go up in flames at any moment; "Reasons To Be Beautiful," another Skin flick, came and went in three chords and a cloud of gold dust.
Yes, Stevie Nicks crept into the room, first in "Gold Dust Woman" itself. Love said the song wasn't usually in the set list, but Aftermath suspects it's been topping her iPod's most-played list since Hole cut it as a single... before there were iPods. Tuesday, it came decked out in a punk-rock biker jacket she must have lifted from the Joey Ramone exhibit at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Gradually, inexorably, Nicks never left her inflections, affectations and, by the encore, her wardrobe.
Kurt was there too, in every spine-throttling Live Through This moment - "Miss World," "Violet," "Asking For It," the title track, even an impromptu and more-or-less a cappella "Jennifer's Body" - but most of all in a grinding encore cover of the Stones' "Playing With Fire" that was the exact same tempo, and most of the same notes, as In Utero's "Scentless Apprentice."
But larceny in rock and roll is no cardinal sin. Neither is survival.
Personal Bias: Negligible. Aftermath has a couple of pretty good stories we could tell from the times our paths crossed Love's (sort of) back in our Austin days, but we're not going to. We hadn't given much thought to her or Hole in about a decade, until we heard the band was playing House of Blues earlier this year. Especially after Tuesday, we wish her nothing but the best.
The Crowd: 30s, 40s, some 20s and teens (not many). Almost full; 70/30 female: Camisoles, shorts, tattoos, heels, flip-flops, boots, plus-size ladies in "I Beat Anorexia" T-shirts. Surprising lack of baby-doll dresses. Dudes either intentionally dressed like 1994 (beards, plaid, etc.) or hadn't changed a lick since then. We suspect the latter.
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Overheard [in the elevator to HOB's Foundation Room]:
She: "Who's Courtney Love?"
He: "I have no idea."
She: "Isn't she an actress?"
Random Notebook Dump: We were not privy to the discussions that must have gone down at City Hall, but apparently the City of Houston temporarily suspended the indoor smoking ban for House of Blues Tuesday - onstage and off. Fine by us.
For more photos from the concert, check out our slideshow.