Review: Houston Chronicle

Mom’s Day Brings a Different Love
May 11, 1999, by Rick Mitchell

People celebrate Mother’s Day in various ways. Some moms get flowers and cards. Some get breakfast in bed. Some get their family over for supper.

Courtney Love gets to parade around in leather hot pants with her rock ‘n’ roll band, Hole. “It’s Mother’s Day. I promised my daughter I’d quit smoking,” she told a three-quarters full house at the Aerial Theater Sunday night. “I’ve quit worse.”

Appropriately enough, Love then bellowed through Violet, the lead track from Hole’s 1994 breakthrough album, Live Through This, which contains the verse, “You should learn when to go/You should learn how to say no . . . ”

When Love admitted she was craving a smoke a little later in the show, the audience bombarded her with cigarettes. This led to the song Dying, from Hole’s latest album, Celebrity Skin. The first verse goes, “I am so dumb, just beam me up . . . ”

If Hole’s music wasn’t so convincingly real, Love could pass for a performance artist doing a dead-on impression of a decadently self-obsessed rock goddess on the verge of veering out of control. Which is exactly what she was when she came through town five years ago following the release of Live Through This.

“Am I the only person here who has given birth?” she wondered, after her earlier salute to motherhood drew a lukewarm response. “What are you all, like, 12?” This introduced a Britney Spears baby-doll impersonation – “Hit me, baby, one more time . . . ” – which Love cleverly worked into Hole’s far more ambiguously adult song, Hit So Hard.

With one bare leg provocatively straddling a stage monitor, Love resembles Mae West with an electric guitar, inviting the boys in the mosh pit to come up and see her if they dare. None did. At one point, she launched into a foul-mouthed tirade against “jocks,” and demanded that three guys be removed from the building.

Prior to a ’60s garage-rock version of Bob Dylan’s It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue, Love berated the audience for being ignorant of rock history. “Has anyone here ever heard of the 13th Floor Elevators?” she smirked. “They were so punk, so good.”

The difference between Love’s demeanor on this tour and the last is that the outrageousness has become an essential part of her schtick. Watching her struggle to make it through her 1994 Halloween appearance at Numbers was a ghoulish experience; she now appears to be in control and having fun.

Love’s new attitude is reflected in the songs on Celebrity Skin, which are more polished and poppy than the punk-rock rants that dominated Live Through This. Love still screams and hollers when the mood is appropriate, but she also affects a softer, bittersweet tone that suits the newer material.

On Northern Star, done here as an acoustic duet during the encore, Hole guitarist and co-founder Eric Erlandson played Lindsey Buckingham to Love’s Stevie Nicks. Bassist Melissa Auf Der Maur and new drummer Samantha Maloney displayed a wider range of textures and tempos than grunge/slow and punk/thrash.

To some older fans, it might seem as if Hole has sold out. But by moving toward pop-rock songcraft, Love is trying to escape from the dark corner into which punk-rock has painted itself in the hopeless pursuit of ideological purity.

Or maybe she’s still just trying to live through this. As she put it in the evening’s last song, Celebrity Skin: “You better watch out, what you wish for/It better be worth it/So much to die for . . . ”

Imperial Teen’s opening set demonstrated the limits of pop-punk. The group’s rudimentary musicianship and boy/girl vocals recalled a mating of the Velvet Underground and ABBA. At this late date, that idea seems more an affectation than an innovation.