Only five days passed between the premiere of VH1’s propagandistic “Behind the Music” episode on her — talking about how this is her year, she’s finally getting her act together, etc. — and the night Courtney Love publicly went off the rails again.
“Imagine a Hole concert that doubles as a complete Courtney Love meltdown. Not too hard to do,” Washington Post critic David Malitz wrote in his review of Love’s June 27 show at the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C. “Now imagine it being 10 times more disastrous than that.”
The scathing but evenhanded review, which was seconded by fan accounts, described a debacle of a show in which Love struggled to finish some songs, played one song twice, blathered wildly for 10 minutes between most songs and (bizarrely) insisted that her assistant be right next to her onstage filming every song on her iPhone. As if Apple users didn’t already have a reputation for being too narcissistic.
Dang, and I thought this was going to be Courtney’s year. I really did, so much so I was actually prepared to add my voice to the comeback rah-rah for the alt-rock queen.
Before the D.C. freak show, though, there was plenty of reason to believe the Courtney rebound hype.
She was mildly impressive at her first comeback set in March at Spin magazine’s South by Southwest Music Conference party in Austin, Texas. The new Hole sounded tight and explosive. Despite her showing up with a face that looked too heavily sculpted to even sing, Love delivered both new and old songs with conviction (if not the same powerful voice). Coyly, she opened with the Stones’ all-too-appropriate “Sympathy for the Devil.” And she didn’t say anything too outlandish. Well, except for when she described one of the new tunes.
“It reminds me of really (messed)-up sex,” she said, “like when you punch the person right in the middle of it.”
The new Hole album, “Nobody’s Daughter,” came out in April and proved to be a moderately hard-rocking and at times gawkishly fascinating record. Many rock fans forget — especially those who only know Love for her tirades, trials, escapades and one or two good movie roles — that Hole actually put out one classic album and two more halfway decent albums in the ‘90s.
For an all-too-brief moment there, women were widely accepted alongside men in the world of loud guitars and screaming vocals, and Love was one of the leaders (others in that era: Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon, the Breeders, PJ Harvey, L7, Bikini Kill and Babes in Toyland, who briefly counted Courtney as a member). Nowadays, the hardest-rocking woman in mainstream rock is probably the singer from Paramore, Hayley Williams, who’s terrific but comes off like a “Twilight” movie compared with Love’s “Texas Chainsaw Massacre.”
The new Hole album is hardly as relevant as 1994’s “Live Through This,” but it’s not bad. Some new songs were even written well enough to make you feel sorry for Love. In “Letter to God,” for instance, she sings, “I never wanted to be some kind of comic relief / Please show me who I am / I’ve been tortured and scorned since the day I was born.”
Since the record’s release, Love had been earning pretty favorable concert reviews up until the Washington fiasco — even just days before, in fact, when she played a pair of New York shows that were well-received, if very brief (only about an hour long). After Washington, her concerts in Miami, Nashville and Atlanta were even-keeled and relatively uneventful, if underattended and mildly irritating (she made fans in Atlanta wait an hour and a half).
So perhaps the Washington meltdown was just a bump in the road. It’s easier to think otherwise. When drug problems are involved, people anticipate the crashes like they’re watching a NASCAR race.
Of course, Love has more issues than substance abuse. Ever since she read her husband Kurt Cobain’s suicide letter at the public vigil in Seattle right after his death, we’ve all known she also suffers from center-of-the-universe-itis. The new “Behind the Music” episode on her is just another fix toward that particular addiction.
“I have a brand: My brand is crazy bitch,” she told the VH1 cameras, suggesting that’s what we pay to see.
Actually, Courtney, I’m just hoping your show rocks, plain and simple, like some of the gigs I saw you play back in the mid-‘90s. That’s all. Save the crazy stuff for the cameras — the TV cameras, not your iPhone.