9:30 Club generally runs a pretty tight ship. When their web site indicates that a band is going on at a certain time, there is a 99.9% chance that the band goes on within minutes of the stated time. Courtney Love, however, couldn’t care less about conventionality and Hole first appeared on stage over an hour after their scheduled time this past Sunday night. The crowded-but-not-sold-out club grew increasingly impatient and scattered boos filled the room as the pre-show playlist was exhausted and The Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony” repeated itself over the PA. Luckily, as Ravel’s Boléro followed and lights were dimmed, collective frustration over the long delay was quickly replaced by eager anticipation.
And then, Ms. Love and her current iteration of Hole finally appeared on stage. Showing comprehension of the situation, (perhaps having heard the boobirds), she offered up some occasionally slurred local color about having been indisposed with a male Senator friend who can’t be seen with her in public due to her controversial nature. Maybe she was candy striping in order to aid Sen. Byrd in his final hours. Or using that as a cover to pilfer Oxycontin. Who knows. Regardless, it made for an interesting backstory flecked with obvious improbability. What I do know is that what followed on stage over the next two and a half plus hours was perhaps less improbable but still rather unbelievable. And incredibly difficult to put into words. As Courtney would have it, however, one might be able to see clips from this show in the near future as her narcissism was reflected in the presence of an iPhone toting woman on stage recording Courtney’s contribution to the show. Not the band….Courtney. At times, it was clear that this audience was of greater import than the live audience, including the many that ended up watching the show on stage.
I’ve witnessed one other act where fleeting moments of brilliance punctuated a series of bizarre statements, forgotten lyrics, humor, inanity, ticked off bandmates, and some of the tightest punk rock you’ll ever have the pleasure of hearing. While Evan Dando was not on this evening’s agenda, Ms. Love seems to owe her occasionally spotty memory and unique on-stage antics to the same chemical romance that has ultimately hindered Dando’s prodigious talent. Whether or not this is an ongoing romance is uncertain, but even if it isn’t, time spent with Mr. Brownstone has clearly left its mark(s).
While the band is clearly present to assuage Ms. Love’s ego and need for attention while providing competent backing, they also played with tight assurance. As one might expect from a guy who has previously earned his keep with Pearl Jam and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jack Irons proved himself to be one of the best rock and roll drummers alive. Except that I had bad info, for it was not Jack Irons playing skins but apparently Stu Fisher. From Fisher in particular, there was a palpable tension directed towards the front woman as she veered off from a largely irrelevant set list into intemperate screeds about topics that included: African-Americans and rock music, whether or not she knows if George Clooney is gay, audience polls about what songs they wanted to hear and a variety of other disconnected threads. Since only water was consumed on stage, it wasn’t a shock to see Fisher at the bar during the Courtney-plus-the-lead-guitarist portion of the encore guzzling a beer like a blue-collar worker seeking escape after the last whistle had sounded on a trying week at the forge.
The set started with a cover of “Sympathy for the Devil,” and before it was all said and done, (and believe me, I wish I had actively chronicled the bizarre things that were said and done), the audience got more than two and a half hours of live entertainment on stage. In addition to initiating the musical portion of the entertainment with a cover, Hole also brought unique approaches to songs by Nine Inch Nails, Judy Garland, Leonard Cohen, and yet another Rolling Stones’ tune. Many of the band’s newer tunes were trotted out, as well as a bunch of b-sides, demos, and a good amount of older material that thrilled the partisans who stuck around to sort the wheat from the chaff.
The lengthy ragtag performance was fittingly characterized by Ms. Love herself as being like a rehearsal where she was surrounded by a bunch of people she didn’t know. By the time the first set finally wound down and the hour-long encore had commenced, sometime around midnight, at least two-thirds of the crowd had departed the premises. This is not to say that those who departed early made the right decision. When the band was able to rise above the various distractions that curbed any sense of flow, moments of transcendent rock and roll peeked out from behind the curtain of full-moon lunacy. These nuggets of gold were nestled in between pregnant pauses, trivia with the audience, soliloquies regarding past lovers who decided they were gay after her encounters with them, conferences with her lead guitarist, several unsuccessful attempts to modify the height / angle of the microphone, and other untold craziness.
As the early morning minutes rocked-and-rolled the hour-long encore towards completion, Ms. Love stepped into the spotlight to proclaim allegiance to her particular brand of rock and roll religious iconography and struck a pose resembling a stripper at a crucifixion. She held this pose for at least twenty seconds and bathed herself in the adulation of her flock as the spotlight highlighted her curves, easily visible through her transparent chemise. The spectacle drew to a close around 1am, and even for those who did not end their night by kissing Ms. Love on stage, the remaining audience’s response indicated their view that the end result was worth the difficulty endured before the show began, let alone imposed within the set(s). Whether it was a train wreck or unchecked brilliance is debatable, but either way it was largely unforgettable and absolutely riveting. And understandably, it drove Jack Irons, er, Stu Fisher, to drink.