At about 10 p.m. - 50 minutes after the set was scheduled to start - Courtney Love and her backing band strolled onto the Pageant stage. Wearing a flimsy, light-colored dress and clutching pink flowers, the Hole front woman breezily said, "Sorry I'm late. We'll just have to play longer."
Cue a way-too-short snippet of the Sonic Youth-styled outburst "Pretty On the Inside," which morphed into a cover of the Rolling Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil" and a new, hard-rock lurch, "Skinny Little Bitch."
Love was just teasing the audience with the promise of a longer set, though. Hole played for roughly an hour - and that included a four-set encore. And unfortunately, the raw beginning was also a tease: Only songs from the band's pre-2000 career displayed that same spark of energy. The one-two punch of the grunge pogo "Miss World" and a bruised "Violet" thrilled the crowd, while the punk bash "Plump" was a raging snarl. And nobody screams quite like Courtney Love. Her guttural howl - as heard at the end of the Celebrity Skin cut "Reasons to Be Beautiful" -- remains a noise that still raises hairs.
Now, her voice isn't traditional; that's part of its charm. And she's always made it work, because Hole's rougher music compensated for any shortcomings. Last night's show, however, contained more rough spots than normal. At worst, Love's croak sounded like Elmer Fudd or a cross between Carol Channing and Marianne Faithfull; at best, she channeled squeaky-voiced Clare Grogan of Altered Images.
And in 2010, it's safe to say that Love's musical ambitions diverge from her strengths. This year's Nobody's Daughter is a perfectly pleasant album full of well-produced, jangly rock and high-gloss songwriting contributions from Linda Perry and Billy Corgan. When performed live, however, new songs magnified this narrow vocal range. Hearing her wobble through the ballads "Someone Else's Bed" and "Letter to God" was wince-inducing, while a cover of Leonard Cohen's "Take This Longing" caused the man behind me to note that it was the "worst cover he's ever heard."
"Letter to God" last night at the Pageant:
Love herself was charming and largely coherent. She noted several times that she was hungry and hadn't eaten, and asked for cranberry juice. (The break between the main set and the encore, she said she ate a cupcake.) "We're in a bar, right?" she asked at another point, before lighting up a cigarette. She's also been polling every city about their credit scores, and said that all of the sub-550 people in St. Louis were losers, "her people" - and that it was nice that Hole's fan demographic hadn't changed. Yet another time she engaged an audience member: "Is that your boyfriend? He's cute! Keep that one!"
She also asked the crowd if they had seen the "VH1 thing" - a reference to her recent Behind the Music - and noted that it looked like a lot of "TV people" were in the audience. It was a rather astute observation: While there were large pockets of die-hards in the pit, many in the audience seemed there for the curiosity factor - to see if Love would melt down - or simply for the sake of nostalgia. When she ended the main set by saying, "Merci beaucoup, let us know if you want us to come back," the response from the crowd was muted and indifferent.
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