Review: B-Side Magazine

February/March 1995, by ???

On the day gentle Pedro Zamora from MTV’s Real World III died of complications from AIDS, Courtney Love came home to vindicate. The national news announced the beautiful 22-year-old’s death just hours before Hole’s fierce San Francisco show at the historical Fillmore Theater. As I left my apartment I realized the last time I cried for the death of someone I did not know was Kurt Cobain. It seemed like an odd twist of dichotomous fate – going to a sold-out show where his wife would slur abusive remarks throughout her band’s set. “I grew up here and I hate this place!” she affirmed halfway through the evening while standing on a stage littered with doll parts. Could she really mean the same exquisite city where soulful Zamora embraced the end of his short life, finding acceptance and love? A place where earlier in the day the wife of a generation’s martyr visited Nordstrom’s Mac Cosmetics counter seeking magic to conceal the blemishes of narcotic washed skin?

The trendy San Francisco crowd was laden with musicians and Courtney wanna-bes adorned in colorful plastic barrettes, Hole T-shirts, hip-huggers and Love’s signature babydoll dresses. Rumors about her shunning of old friends, a boob job, liposuction and little Francis Bean’s nanny’s were as laden as the audiences’ obvious drug and alcohol consumption.

San Francisco’s latest power pop buzz band, whimsical Star 69, opened the evening. It featured Faith No More keyboardist and adored Courtney Love protege, Roddy Bottom, on guitar and vocals. Songs like ‘You’re One’ and ‘Balloon’ charmed the dark, trendy audience with a loose, Breeder’s edge, minor undertones, and catchy lines like “take it like a man, boy.”

“You guys look really good tonight,” Roddy said into an audience of pigtails and motorcycle helmets. Many recognized him from national news footage (filmed at Love and Cobain’s Seattle house, after the shocking suicide several months prior) where he carried baby Francis through raindrenched police barricades.

Seeing Roddy onstage, I remembered the first time I saw Hole a few years back at San Francisco’s dingy Covered Wagon Saloon where Roddy and I were one of only a few audience members. The hideous backstage scene was one I will remember all my life as a sad mixture of young street junkies, isolation and drama. I wondered how far Courtney had come in her life (or was it just a bigger audience)?

Next up was Chicago’s indie rock quartet Veruca Salt. Leads Louise Post and Nina Gordon looked like underprivileged kids the Brady clan would bring home for dinner. They gave a gracious performance of harmonized melodic songs sliced with punk edges. There was something very endearing and unusually honest about their stage presentation. Squared off drumming and straight-up bass chords balanced out the sweet delivery of the female fronts. The primal screams added to Veruca Salt’s radio hit ‘Seether’ gave the band instant credibility to the rebel crowd.

“I know you probably always hear this but it’s pretty awesome to play this stage,” Louise said midway through the set. At one point Nina whipped back her stringing brown hair, gazed into the audience like a scared animal and spit on stage. An impressive performance of ’25’ (off their debut release American Thighs), used long instrumental riffs and ambling, esoteric guitars (not unlike Billy Corgan’s B-sides) to create a feeling this band will become great. To end the set each member left the darkened stage individually, but Louise returned to pass out a number of red, long-stemmed roses.

The next day SF Weekly aptly described Hole’s performance as “a disturbing undercurrent of mindless worship (surging) into a wave of utter adulation.” At last Courtney ambled onto the stage, commanding immediate respect with her cocky stage walk and obvious sexual energy. She threw back her bleached head, thrusting her sheer, black thigh high clad leg onto the front speaker and broke into a powerful version of Hole’s eerie 1994 hit ‘Miss World.’

At that moment, no one could deny Hole as an amazing force with one of the best major label releases of the year, Live Through This and Courtney returned to remind this hometown crowd dotted with former and current friend and lovers of this fact. Her delivery was bold as she displayed personal power huge enough to fill any sized venue. She used her throaty vocals to seduce with lullaby hushes one moment, while raging in the next. Notable songs consisted mostly of those from Live Through This with the exception of a mocking, drawn out version of Duran Duran’s ‘Hungry Like a Wolf’. The set was strewn together with biting insults about local musicians who had made it big, ancient personal history, blow jobs and her affair with Nine Inch Nail’s lead Trent Reznor. At one point she rambled on about how American Music Club lead Mark Eitzel once followed her around. “His band’s overrated anyway. But hey, if I were a guy and had seven bitches backstage, you wouldn’t give a shit!”

Confidently perched and sneering with blood red lips devouring the microphone, Courtney gave a tenacious and engrossing performance. However, it became increasingly harder to focus on the actual songs once her stage antics and super ego began to overpower the actual music.

“Don’t ask dumb questions about my personal life,” she commanded, directly addressing a heckler about her brief stint in Faith No More. “I was in it for a year! Then Roddy was my boyfriend, then he decided he was gay. See, they can’t top me…Roddy needs a drink, someone piss in a cup.” Along with her stories, Courtney affectations were throwing bottled designer water on the crowd (whatever happened to beer?), dramatically falling back into the band and slowly strumming her low slung olive guitar on her right side while she smoked a cigarette on the left. She teased the crowd by heavily panting into the mic and quickly proclaiming, “I was only faking it!”

Musically, drummer Patty Schemel, guitarist Eric Erlandson and new bassist Melissa Auf Der Maur (replacing Kristen Pfaff who overdosed on heroin shortly after Cobain’s suicide) displayed serious musicianship and skill that balanced out Courtney’s theatrics.

One of the more sincere moments in the set came when Love introduced the foretelling song, ‘Doll Parts’ by screaming into the mic “Would you please come back, dickhead!” (no one questioned who the dickhead was). From that point on the delivery of songs became harder and uglier, haunted by a disturbed guitar and distanced Courtney claiming, “I get what I want and I don’t want it anymore.”

To end the set, the enrapturing lead growled into the mic, “Hey, I’m still alive,” grabbed her coat and failed an attempt to put her arms in the turned out sleeves. She appeared frustrated, flipped the audience off, and quickly regained composure by turning it into a wave as she exited the ballistic crowd. After a long wait, she returned missing her dress, stripped down to a white slip and shouted “Punk is spiritual!” before singing a mocking, loose version of the Nirvana song she co-wrote with Kurt, ‘Pennyroyal Tea.’

“I only did it because I was born here,” she explained to a quieted audience. Her last song was an appropriately raucous version of ‘Rock Star.’ She closed it by diving from the stage, emerging to scream, “You little fucks, you got my $48 Italian underwear!” (other shows she claimed stolen earrings, a charm bracelet from Tiffany’s, etc.) It is so hard to determine the act from the actual truth of her pain, yet no one can deny she is one of the most engaging female performers of a generation whose songs are tightly punctuated, well written and musically brilliant.

As I left the hot venue, an acclaimed San Francisco musician (who really did hang out with Love in her San Francisco days) summed it up by asking, “Does she ever get enough?”

Last night, I walked home late in the rain after seeing a riveting Pretender’s show where Chrissie Hynde came out after two encores and a standing ovation to say, as she grinned ear to ear, “I’m not sure if standards are just so low or if we deserve this!” A reigning queen, not hiding the signs of biological age and a difficult life, gave a stellar performance laced with thank you’s and shaking the audience’s hands while accepting their gifts. It was then I understood the dichotomy of Courtney Love’s life versus a life like Hynde’s (and Zamora’s) where love and the spirit of giving are embraced and pain is an accepted transformer, not something to merely mock. I hoped at the end of my creative life, I would have arrived at Hynde’s and Zamora’s reality, not Love’s. Somehow, I knew most of us would, because the universe may only be able to hold up one Courtney Love.