Live @ O2 Academy Birmingham
May 9, 2010
Review & Photography: Steve Bateman
With only 4 dates in the UK Glasgow, London, Manchester and Birmingham the thought of seeing Courtney Love live in the flesh for the very first time, was something that filled me with much excitement! As despite her well-documented personal troubles / tortured past and Hole controversially no longer featuring Eric Erlandson and Melissa Auf der Maur (from unarguably the most loved / classic line-up), Courtney is still very much the queen of grunge and an undisputed icon of alternative rock. Its a given then, that anybody and everybody who is here tonight, is here to see her!
As we approach showtime at 9.30pm, the house lights dip and multi-coloured spotlights spin and shine on a vast Hole backdrop, along with Ravels Bolero playing as the intro music for what feels like a prolonged period of time no doubt designed to build the crowds expectations for what is to follow. Then, walking out into the shadows with her arms aloft and flanked by her new bandmates (Micko Larkin, Shawn Dailey and Stu Fisher), Courtney acknowledges the audience before strapping on her cherry red Rickenbacker guitar and opening the set with the flaring Pretty On The Inside, which seamlessly transforms into The Rolling Stones Sympathy For The Devil.
Dressed in a slinky black dress, necklace and gold flat shoes, a Let It Bleed tattoo is visible on the inside of her upper right arm, coupled with small tattooed flowers dotted around both arms, and with her tasselled peroxide-blonde hair cascading, Love snarls the line, Just call me Lucifer from The Stones classic in her unmistakable lightning-rod rasp. A vocal tone that was once described as sugar and spice and all things not nice, reminding you just why she remains such a force to be reckoned with and still stokes so much media interest. Continuing with the ravaging Skinny Little Bitch and an iron-cast Miss World which sees Courtney holding her mic-stand out for the audience to sing back at her. She then plays an inspired cover of Take This Longing by Leonard Cohen, joking afterwards about her natural beauty and porcelain complexion, I couldnt find my make-up, so here I am! Before a lashing rendition of the vintage and caustic Violet, sees Love screaming yet more pained lyrics, Go on, take everything, take everything, I want you to which comes as a short, sharp, shock to the system.
Chatting to the crowd between almost every song, banter is obviously a part of performing that this frontwoman clearly relishes, thanking fans and looking genuinely touched and humbled when devotees show her some love by yelling, We love you Courtney! However, informing us that her voice is shot from Manchester and partying with Shaun Ryder, she goes on to mention how subdued the Brum audience are. Every crowd is like a boyfriend and youre the quiet, shy one. So tonight, I can do whatever I want, she grins mischievously. Adding, that although were louder than the crowds in LA and New York, Glasgow remains the best crowd shes ever played to a gig of epic proportions that reportedly lasted for well over 2 hours!
An acoustic cover of NINs Closer, is the final track plucked from the set list taped to the stage, because from here on in, Love tells us that she has decided to deviate from it and play as and what she feels like, resulting in a spontaneous / shambolic approach to the show keeping both her group on their toes (who to be fair, are doing a fine and commendable job), as well as all of us! There are old and new songs aired, which from memory are Boys On The Radio, Honey, Happy Ending Story, Doll Parts, For Once In Your Life and Nobodys Daughter. With an emotional and almost erratic Courtney later remarking, This is a weird set, again apologising for her hoarse delivery, before plunging into the melodic and sun-soaked powerpop of Malibu, quipping at the end of the track that it needs a chick to sing harmonies on.
With band intros out of the way, Love looks over to Micko and asks, Shall we do another one from Celebrity? to which he nods approvingly. This is a song about being famous, reveals Courtney, which of course can only mean one thing, Celebrity Skin. I love the lyrics, Oh make me over, Im all I wanna be, a walking study in demonology, and, When I wake up in my make-up, have you ever felt so used up as this? Its all so sugarless, hooker / waitress, model / actress With the eventual pay-off being, You want a part of me? Well, Im not selling cheap. No, Im not selling cheap. Along with material from Live Through This, each of these tracks receive the loudest cheers and singalongs of the evening and only seem to improve with age!
When Courtney and Co. reappear onstage for the encore, she self-depreciatingly says, Im going to retire and become a judge on American Idol. Thats my destiny, I can feel it! Ask For It is followed by the FM-friendly Pacific Coast Highway from the latest record (an LP that 12 years since the last one, mixes both the raw and commercial aspects of Hole) and sounds like a cousin of Malibu. It begins with the poignant lyric, I knew a boy, he came from the sea, he was the only boy who ever knew the truth about me, which could well be a reference / tribute to Kurt Cobain.
Closing the set with another acoustic cover, this time a lovely take on Big Stars Thirteen, her new muse and co-songwriting partner Micko, skilfully strums his guitar while Love sings and looks on like a proud parent, encouraging the audience to applaud him which brings a huge smile to his face. After around 70 minutes, the gig is complete albeit with a surprising finale but whether or not this was the original intention will remain unclear, due to the issue of the abandoned set list. Courtney again acknowledges the crowd by saying, Thank you so much, goodnight, blowing kisses to us and pirouetting offstage.
Although the audience were quieter than she had hoped for, her voice by her own admission was ragged and the night had a ramshackle feel to it, with some spectators left looking slightly dazed and confused throughout proceedings. Regardless of what anyone says about her or thinks of her, by bringing the Nobodys Daughter Tour to Birmingham, Love showed that she calls the shots and that with such a strong personality, nothing will ever stop her rocking hard and loud with Hole whoever the line-up may feature. Make no mistake about it, this is her band and she owns the stage.
As always then, unpredictable, undisciplined and uncontrollable. But interesting, provocative and opinionated rock stars with an element of danger, like Courtney Love, are fast-becoming a dying breed, which is the exact reason why we should cherish her!
A very special thanks to Kat @ Universal Music, for all of her time and help.