To Die By Your Side

Hole – Birmingham Academy 09/05/2010

May 10th, 2010

There are loads of words you could use to describe Courtney Love. Loads of words that have been used. Words that cross the spectrum of love and hate. From fanatical idolation to outright loathing, her music, her life and her personality all provoke extreme opinions and reactions. But of all the words you could use and all the words that have been used, it’s doubtful she’s ever been described as mediocre. Until now.

Not that it should come as any major surprise. List the things that have kept Courtney Love top of mind and her music would be some way down. Below the rambling tweets, the ongoing feuds, the shambolic appearances, the drugs, the dramas, the rumours and romances. Sure, she’s always been on the verge of being a burnt out, clichéd rock n roll casualty but all that could be forgotten, forgiven even, if she could rise from the flames. If Courtney and Hole could remind us what it was that first made us love them. If only.

For as much as the ticket and posters may protest, this isn’t Hole. This is Courtney Love plus band. A band that simply aren’t that good. A band who play an average approximation of alt-rock. Bereft of style and subtlety, they spend most of the evening sounding like an average pub rock covers band. Or worse, Stiltskin. Songs chug along where they should zip and while they play with force, there’s not a hint of control. ‘Skinny Little Bitch’ benefits from the bluster approach but it’s in the minority, the slower songs particularly suffering from a lack of restraint.

The band, however, are merely part of the only problem. The set list is disjointed, with no real flow or connection from one song to the next. Momentum dips between songs and there’s never any real risk of an atmosphere building. New songs don’t figure too heavily in the first half and a curious over reliance on cover versions doesn’t help either. Opener ‘Pretty On The Inside’ quickly bleeds into an unremarkable and messy ‘Sympathy For The Devil’. Leonard Cohen’s ‘Take This Longing’ hardly fares better. Avoiding ‘Hallelujah’ is one thing but if you’re going to play a Cohen cover that’s unfamiliar to most, the least you can do is make it interesting. Enjoyable would suffice. Awkward and meandering, it’s a relief when it ends. Better is Nine Inch Nails ‘Animal’, a song Courtney says she wishes she’d written and would like to think is about her. While recognising neither is true, her clear love of the song is apparent in an intense version that detours briefly into Patti Smith’s ‘Rock N Roll Nigga’. The fourth and final cover is a misguided and wholly unnecessary acoustic version of Big Star’s ‘Thirteen’. Courtney’s rasping voice feels at odds with the song’s sweet nature. Neither subverting the tender innocence of the song, nor connecting with the rebellion of the rock and roll romance, it simply doesn’t fit.

Something you could say about Courtney herself. There’s no denying she has presence and it’s near impossible to take your eyes off her for even a moment. The sense of danger and unpredictability is still evident but it’s more in the sense of a freakshow than a rockshow. Her every move somehow feels a bit contrived. As though she’s playing the part of Courtney Love rather than actually being. Her voice too is a shadow of it’s former self. While she can still growl and roar like a wild banshee, that’s about all she can do. The tour may have taken it’s toll on her voice but I’m not convinced it’s the whole story. Clearly the years of hard living have clearly had an effect beyond a few weeks of touring, reducing the range she once had and making everything she sings sound strained or yelped. Where once she could contrast the screaming harridan with a coquettish child like innocence, she now seems limited to the former. There’s no light to her shade. No ice to her fire. She swings the mic toward the crowd for the vocals she can’t carry on her own. She swings the mic toward the crowd a lot.

She also berates of the crowd for being too quiet. Tells us how loud Manchester were. Says Glasgow was the best gig she’s ever played. Yet there’s nothing to suggest either statement could be true. It feels like a comedian constantly telling us how funny they are without telling any jokes. She offers nothing deserving a stronger reaction. As though the very fact we’re near her is reason enough to be grateful. Sure there are some people going wild down the front and old favourites induce some frantic moshing, but it feels more like blind devotion than a real reaction to what is happening. She’s sloppy throughout, forgetting the lyrics to ‘Boys On the Radio’, wearing her guitar rather than playing it and generally seeming quite out of it.

Don’t get me wrong, there are moments of enjoyment. Fleeting rushes of adrenaline at hearing the intros to ‘Doll Parts’, ‘Miss World’ and ‘Malibu’ played live. Brief moments of misplaced nostalgic familiarity that soon pass once the band wrestle the tunes into murky dirges. They finish with a bedraggled but raucous ‘Celebrity Skin’ that’s clearly pulled forward from the encore and for a moment it’s uncertain whether Hole will return. With the crowd finally making the noise she wanted, Courtney and co come back for 3 more tracks. It may be too late to rescue the evening but ‘Pacific Coast Highway’ does enough to end the night on a high of sorts. If only it ended there. Sadly they follow it with the aforementioned Big Star cover and charitable feeling fades away.

To say Hole were disappointing is an understatement. Never has a gig I’ve been so looking forward to, left me feeling so disheartened and unfulfilled. Neither bad enough to be tragic, nor anywhere near being special, Hole were the one thing a rock band should never be … mediocre.

Hole – thirteen (live acoustic Big Star cover)

Hole – pacific coast highway (live acoustic session version) original version available on ‘Nobody’s Daughter’

Filed Under Live Review, Music

DW posted the following on May 10, 2010 at 10:10 pm.

I completely agree with everything you said in the review. The gig wasn’t as bad as I feared but nowhere near as good as I hoped. The band seemed weak and under-rehearsed and soundwise the guitars were muddy and lacked power.

I hear she played (let’s face it, it’s not ‘they’) for two hours at one of the shows (probably Glasgow) but if the performance was similar I don’t know if I’d have wanted that much of it.

Rach posted the following on May 12, 2010 at 10:50 pm.

I wonder why she even bothers anymore… And I know this is a harsh statement but she has gone far beyond any hopes as far as I am concerned.

How sad…

🙁 There was a time where she rocked and nobody could rock like she did, now it is just so sad.

cristina posted the following on May 13, 2010 at 2:41 pm.

this was the worst ‘Hole’ gig i have ever seen and ive seen a few.i hate the say it but it really feels that she has nothing left to give.she should retire quietly and get on with her legal woes rather than carry on with such undignified performaces and sad twitter rantings…..

LUVM posted the following on May 17, 2010 at 8:21 pm.

Brixton really was ace. And my friend went to Glasgow and said it was even better. I’m biased because songs like Violet and Boys on the Radio mean more to me than anything; and she did forget the lyrics to the latter in Brixton too (despite her autocue!)
But just to see her alive this year, 16 years after the last time, was enough for me. I thought her covers were really excellent. Her voice is shot; but you know.

The alternative view here… *plug* hehehe

MAx posted the following on May 18, 2010 at 1:29 pm.

Glasgow was fuc***g amazing, she performed 28 songs before losing her voice during “Never Go Hungry”, she definitevelly tried to make a good impression on Scotland.

Alex posted the following on May 19, 2010 at 11:43 pm.

Shame to hear. I was at Glasgow and Manchester, and both were great. Even during their sloppier moments, it was most definitely a good rock show. Loved evey second of it.

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