Review: All Star Magazine

Hole: Flashes of Greatness and Flashes of Flesh
by Lisa M. Moore

Courtney Love showed the audience a thing or two at Boston’s Orpheum Theatre Tuesday (Dec. 1). She showed them that when her band Hole is good, they’re great, but when they’re bad, they’re tedious. She showed that the three-plus years between tours haven’t softened her tongue or her wit. She showed that she knows the value of a potent backing band. Oh, and she showed the audience her breasts — twice.

Hole’s show was the jewel in the crown of local radio station WBCN’s annual holiday concert, a 30-band charity event, and it was the first of a mini-tour the band is doing ahead of a full U.S. tour slated for next year. As performance art, it was a triumph. Love was funny, caustic, petulant, coy — everything a rock and roll diva should be. As a rock and roll show, well, it was hit or miss.

The band went on late, well after opening band Garbage had finished their set, and the show was rife with first-night glitches. Love whined when her ear-piece went out and swore when her beleaguered guitar tech brought the wrong guitar. (He’ll learn.) Love started berating the crowd from her first minute onstage, urging them to stand up and “Say you’re not dead!”

The band launched into “Awful,” from the new album, Celebrity Skin, and the rollercoaster ride began. The set was punctuated with numerous stops — for cigarettes, for drinks, for guitar changes. During one interlude, Love said “I need a break. Shirley [Manson] doesn’t, but she’s in better health than me!”

Despite her frequent rants to the sold-out crowd to stand up and show more life (“It’s soooo boring looking at the three of you sitting there,” she railed at one point), the majority of the audience members were behind her every step, and their positive reactions often drew smiles from La Love.

Love made only one reference to her late husband, as “that guy I married one time… remember him?” She explained she had written the song “Doll Parts” in Boston as a jealous response to his relationship with that “busker chick” (Mary Lou Lord). During the song, she seemed genuinely moved by the crowd’s singing, and when it was finished, she wiped away tears as she headed back to the drum riser for another cigarette.

The debate about whether Love’s talent is innate or carefully studied fades away when she takes the stage — she possesses an undeniable presence, a Madonna-like savvy about how to package herself and her music. Although she credits Versace with revamping her image, one senses the calculation behind the transformation. Love has reinvented herself from grungy Riotgrrl into stylish rock diva, shedding her baby doll dresses and slips in favor this night of black leather hip-huggers and a low-cut velvet bustier.

During one of the frequent breaks, Love paused to readjust herself, and the crowd cheered, prompting her to pull her top down, flashing her breasts. The crowd went wild, so she did it again, then smiled and said, “Boring!” before lighting another cigarette. But, the question on everyone’s mind was whether the band and their new material could still hold an audience’s attention. On this night, they proved they could, albeit with a few lapses.

When things came together just right, as they did on songs like “Celebrity Skin,” “Pretty on the Inside,” from the band’s first album of the same name, and “Violet,” from Live Through This, Hole had the audience enraptured. Love’s voice was kept a bit low in the mix, no doubt to counter any first night problems, but she displayed a remarkable vocal elasticity, stretching from husky growls to soul-shaking screams.

While the rest of the band members — bassist Melissa Auf der Maur, guitarist Eric Erlandson, and drummer Samantha Maloney — were the perfects foils for Love’s theatrics, they proved they’re more than just a backdrop for her star power with Maloney shining especially bright.

Love made one concession to her flair for dramatic dress, appearing after a long break for the encore clad in a showgirl tutu, complete with sequined tights and feather-trimmed tail. “I feel so stupid, like Madonna,” she quipped. “But at least it’s not Versace!” Her outlandish outfit was a visual contrast to the first song of the encore, “Northern Star.” With just Love singing backed by Erlandson on acoustic guitar, the song was a high point, raw emotion that showcased Love’s softer side and packed as much of a punch as any of the rockers.

During the encore, Auf der Maur stepped up to sing the Lemonheads’ “Into Your Arms,” which she dedicated to the “sweetest Bostonian we know… we love you Evan!” The band closed on a high point with “Violet,” pure vitriol that captured Hole and Love at their raw, uncompromising best.