If the best thing that can be said about Courtney Love’s return as the frontdemon of Hole is that she didn’t fall down, fall over, or fall apart — well, that’s actually quite something. The SPIN@Stubb’s day party hosted what was long anticipated as the biggest train wreck of SXSW 2010, but Love’s re-coming-out party was more professional than anyone could have hoped for. Did that make it good? Depends on what you were after.
After a terrific series of sets from Rogue Wave, Sharon Jones, Miike Snow and more (stay tuned for our coverage of those acts later), the main event was introduced by comedian Margaret Cho, who told the crowd, “When I first saw Hole it changed everything for me.” The pressure was on. And at times, it felt a little bit like we’d put our collective kid on stage in a beauty pageant, expecting the worst; indeed, wrapped in a gauzy black blouse, tattered gray tutu, a beaded tiara, sporting orange “BEWARE” tape as a sash, Love looked the part of Miss World, waiting for someone to kill her. With a monitor at her feet (presumably for lyrics), she seemed a bit frozen at first, smoking a cigarette, tossing off her sunglasses, and opening with the wink of the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil” as she strummed a blood-red Rickenbacker. First single “Skinny Little Bitch” followed, and Love began to warm up: her foot went up on the monitor, easing the fears of some in the photo pit who remembered shooting her in her underwear-free early days. She launched into “Miss World.” The place went nuts. Love cast a sidelong smile. Her voice sounded great. “Hey kids, we’re Hole,” she said.
It was “Violet” where she really came alive, delivering “Go on, take everything!” with extra gusto when not handing it over to the screaming crowd. Did she lose her voice there? Possible. She sure lost it somewhere along the way. “I totally just came,” she said when it was over, clearly thrilled to be back on stage, and the crowd at Stubb’s was glad to have her. She cracked a (random) Bret Michaels joke, huskily strummed a few bars of “Every Rose Has Its Thorn,” then told everyone to “shut the f— up, get serious” for the heartwrenching “Letter to God.” Were those tears in her eyes as she sang “I never wanted to be the person you see”? Hard to say — the minute that song ended, chatty, dangerously friendly, hilariously sarcastic Courtney was back, and unlike her voice, she never left. Life in front of the audience is her element, and she was lapping it up.
She introduced the band — four dudes that were not ever previously in Hole, but who achieved the appropriate blend of tight and slightly out of tune — by telling us “This is the way it’s going to be for a long f—ing time, get used to it. We’re Hole whether you like it or not, you little [unknown expletive].” One looked around for SXSW attendee Melissa Auf der Maur or, god forbid, Eric Erlandson, but all I could find was Mischa Barton, wandering somewhat aimlessly around the VIP balcony. Then Courtney sang “PCH,” followed inexplicably by a discussion of hate sex/donkey punching. She was having so much fun that it was almost possible to forget that we were getting too much information, and her anecdote about the drunken Facebook fight she got in last night with Perez Hilton — Perez: “I wanna hear hits! I wanna hear ‘Violet’!”; Courtney: “Perez, ‘Violet’ wasn’t a hit.” — was comedy gold. She played no further “hits” besides “Miss World” and “Violet,” in fact, and some of the new stuff is, as previously noted on this blog, a bit undercooked and overdone, if still all messy and hollery and angsty and whatever. Will these songs, as Love predicted, be huge on the radio? Again: I guess it depends on what you’re after.
Love was ramping up to something special when the Stubb’s people came out to tell her she could only play one more song; it looked for a minute like she wasn’t going to go quietly (“Make that go away!” she pleaded with the crowd, who booed heartily in support), but then she acquiesced like a good little girl. Okay, a good little girl with a potty mouth: “We’ll play a really good song. It’s called ‘Samantha.’ F— you.” Having now heard it live, with Love working on about half a surviving vocal cord, I am happy to admit that yes, “Samantha” might be a good song. Maybe not “Violet” good, but, you know, “it’s 2010 and I missed Hole and hey, look, I’m at a Hole show!” good. When Love finished, she (again inexplicably) yelled, “Trent Reznor 1995, stick that up your ass!” Then she stepped back, bowed with her band, and got in one last brilliant line: “I’d stage dive, but I’m far too elderly.” You and me both, Courtney. You and me both.