by The Spin
“The ‘90s are over. It’s nice to be playing a small club,” Courtney Love said midway through last night’s Hole performance at The Cannery Ballroom. And, of course, by Hole we mean Love and some twentysomethings who probably should’ve stayed in college. Due to a “scheduling conflict" (i.e. dismal ticket sales), the show, Initially booked at The Ryman, was re-routed to The Cannery — less than half the size — which ended up being a little more than half full itself when all was said and done.
The crowd of people who come out of the woodwork to see Hole in 2010 fall into two camps: earnestly unkempt, aged badmotorfingers still flying the flannel flag as they pine for an era of synth-less soft verses and loud choruses; and vulturous gawkers who come to see what shenanigans might subsume rock’s most maligned widow this side of Yoko Ono. After reading a now widely circulated Washington Post review detailing an “astonishingly awful performance that had few moments of redeeming musical value,” we fell into the latter camp.
As we took our places among the other scattershot voyeurs milling about the fringes of the crowd, the actual fans disregarded the vast empty floor space, herding tightly around the front of the stage in a fevered anticipation, showing they outgunned those inspired by morbid curiosity.
Turns out, on this night, they’d be the ones rewarded, not us. Perhaps on her best behavior in the wake of the Post review’s viral blowback, there were no meltdowns, no assistants shooting cell-phone videos, no collapses and no fisticuffs. Assuming such antics par for the course, many remarked with surprise, “Hey, this actually isn’t bad,” once the band found their groove, while rubberneckers like us were disappointed Love wasn’t exposing herself, summoning the spirit of Il Duce or mainlining horse with reckless abandon.
While it may be the lowered expectations talking, the truth of the matter is Hole were fine. Eric Erlandson, Patty Schemel and Melissa Auf der Maur may be sitting this “reunion” out, but it sounded like riot grrrl grunge to us — songs sped up as they got louder, slightly out-of-tune guitars clashed in a goulash of distortion and inharmony, and Love strained to squeal out choruses. But that describes a Hole show in 1995 as much as it does the one last night. Had we been honest-to-God fans we probably would’ve loved it.
Nevertheless, the night wasn’t without its rattletrap moments — most of which were found in a confounding selection of covers littered throughout the 80-minute set. First there was the sort-of opening version of The Rolling Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil” that we took as a plea. Then there was the oh-no-she-d’n't take on Leonard Cohen’s “Take This Longing,” which seemed merciful in comparison to her briefly going Nina Simone on our asses with an aborted attempt at “Feeling Good.”
Love blushed and joked as she struggled to remember lyrics, while the band backed her through each with threadbare frailty, nevertheless seeming to enjoy themselves. Our laugh-out-loud moment came courtesy of a piano-driven, quasi-jazzy rendition on The Spin’s karaoke jam — Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer” — that gave us a disturbing window into what coitus between Trent Reznor and Tori Amos must’ve been like.
The first half of the set felt like a shambolic medley of those half-learned covers and some lesser-known originals, as seemingly no number made it past the 90-second mark. While the crowd reveled in Love’s devil-may-care approach, they might as well have filled a stadium judging by their reaction when the band dusted off Live Through This staples like “Miss World,” “Violet” and “Plump” — which we were pleasantly surprised to realize we still have a soft spot for. It was during these instances that the band sound focused, urgent and even, dare we say, good. Fever pitch moment: a joyous sing-along during the Corgan co-penned anthem “Celebrity Skin” that surely put a smile on the face of any nostalgic child of the ‘90s.
Looking like an aged Madonna in an upcoming role as Nancy in the hypothetical punk-tinged zombie flick Night of the Living Spungen, Love sucked down butt after butt while treating all to her trademark monitor-propping, Jesus Christ poses and lush-on-the-verge-of-drunken-collapse posturing as she made it through the night without incident — delighting the faithful and disappointing us lookie loos.
We held out hope that she was saving the inevitable train wreck for the encore, and would return to the stage to punch out a photographer — as long as it wasn’t our own Lance Conzett — but alas, it wasn’t meant to be. Instead we got the predictable “Doll Parts” and an extended acoustic set that featured her horse-voiced takedown of Big Star’s “Thirteen.”
Guess we'll have to go back to waiting for Pete Doherty to come to town.