Courtney Love Live: The Train That Never Really Wrecks

by Tyler Coates


Hole has been touring hard this summer. The band is now in Minneapolis, then heading for Japan, then playing some west coast dates. Early on, the words “disaster” were being used-but by the time they got to Texas, the reports we were hearing were “amazing.” Our chief Chicagoland correspondent reports in.

I woke up early the morning that the tickets for the Hole concert went on sale just in case the show sold out. The idea of seeing Courtney Love-a for-real rock icon-live made me freak out. I didn’t bother to make plans with friends to see the show; I assumed that I’d know a handful of people who’d be as excited as I was. It turned out, however, that no one I knew was interested in the show, and I found myself becoming equally indifferent as the date grew closer.

I couldn’t even find my ticket on the morning of Wednesday’s show, and I was a bit relieved. While I searched my apartment, I wondered if losing the ticket was the best excuse for avoiding a potentially terrible concert. When I did find it, I realized that I had to go, as my chances of selling it were slim and I was in no position to skip out on a concert after paying more than forty dollars.

You’ve heard that Courtney Love is a little crazy, right? Her variety of nuttiness is one reason to see her in concert: to experience something that is unpredictable and rock ’n’ roll, but also something that teeters on the border of trainwreck. Is there any other musician who can provide such an unexpected and unpredictable performance? There is a reason why there were so many gays in the audience-we like to watch a hot mess because we’re SO MEAN. Was it worth it to attend a show for which I had very low expectations?

I skipped the opening act (I’m sure the audience at the Vic will never forget the night they saw FOXY SHAZAM open for Hole) and arrived just in time to hear trumpets blare over the speakers. The lights dimmed and the majority of the crowd pulled out their Blackberries and iPhones in order to film the opening moments of the show. It sounded a bit like the music one hears in the gift shops at Busch Gardens: it was deliberately schlocky, so pretentiously dramatic, yet it completely worked as Courtney strutted onto the stage clad in a black backless dress and thigh-high boots. She took a drag from her cigarette and, with a hand on her hip and a half-grin that didn’t leave her face for the rest of show, purred, “Shall we?”

I was neither over- nor under-whelmed by the first songs. It felt a bit like what “rock concerts” look like in movies: a montage of two-minute versions of songs you’d recognize from some place else. But when the first set ended, it was time for some onstage banter. “VALERIE LOVES ME,” she screamed, and I got super excited; I expected a cover of the Material Issue song. Alas, it was just a segue into the first of many monologues-all of which had the same theme. “That’s my favorite song to come out of Chicago,” she said. “Well, except for the ones that Billy wrote for me.”

Have you ever run into a friend at a party and they’re kind of wasted and they mention an ex but try to play it off in a way that it’s, like, not even a big deal, OK? Or have you ever wanted to totally bash someone to a mutual acquaintance even though you know you shouldn’t, and that doing so would just make you look like a shit? Well, Courtney has a lot to say about Billy Corgan. “I don’t know why Billy thinks I can’t write songs,” Courtney said after playing “Pacific Coast Highway,” from Hole’s latest album, “Nobody’s Daughter.” “That song was good, right? It was co-written by Courtney Love. And I wrote the melody, which is the best part, right?” The crowd cheered, giving the positive reinforcement that Courtney needed and pretty much just flat-out asked for. “Seriously,” she said, suddenly softening the blow, “Billy is so talented. I can’t even deal with it.”

There were other interjections about Billy-with whom I’m now on a first-name basis-throughout the show, but he isn’t her only enemy in Chicago. “Is Jim DeRogatis here tonight?” she asked. “If so, fuuuuuuck youuuuuuuu!” (My sincere apologies to DeRo fans, but I’m on Team Courtney in this matter.) Sad to say, I was too far back in the theater to ask her what she thought of Chicagoan Liz Phair’s “Funstyle.”

The rest of the set was a mixture of forgettable new songs and selections from “Live Through This.” Courtney certainly relied on the guys behind her to play the instruments, but she played to the audience nonetheless: she shoved her arms down to the people in the front row, chastised a girl for being too rowdy (“I was never that loud!”), and demanded that more lingerie be thrown at the stage. During the encore, in which she returned to the stage wearing an unbuttoned dress shirt over her visible bra and stockings in a possible Bob Fosse homage, she sang a cover of Big Star’s “Thirteen” (classic rock concert move!) and then polled the audience on their credit scores. It was the MTV Unplugged version of the fully amplified crazy that one might expect from Courtney Love. There were no breakdowns, no public humiliations, and I was really excited!

I might be in the minority here, but I genuinely want Courtney Love to succeed. It’s so easy-and frankly, so cliched-to call for the public humiliation of a famous person. Granted, those with a penchant for airing their dirty laundry generally have a need for validation and the inability to ignore criticism, but I’m also someone who thinks that everyone is a bit of a narcissist. (Hello! I have a blog, and I have my own personal Billy Corgans.)

It was quite refreshing, though, to see a very unpretentious crowd enjoy a band they really loved. Hole’s a band that has, for better and for worse, been around in various incarnations for more than twenty years now, and they’re still attracting a diverse crowd that ranges from girls in the the lace tops and kick-wear to bros wearing cargo shorts and rugby shirts.

There might even still be some tiny chance that Courtney Love’s whole persona is a big act, that she choreographs her every move, and that we all may have fallen for it. But she seemed so genuine, so completely and honestly off-the-cuff-and I don’t like the implications of an alternate reality in which a Bizarro Courtney has such control over a thousand people in one night. Perhaps I’m over-thinking all of it and should just acknowledge that the group of a thirteen hundred happy people was evidence of a great show.

Tyler Coates will be very happy to have breakfast drinks with you this coming Sunday at 11 a.m. in Chicago!

Photo by Ted van Pelt from Flickr.