Review: Metro Active

Courtney holds court in San Jose at Not So Silent Night concert
by Michelle Goldberg

Courtney Love stood haughtily and triumphantly over the surging crowd at the San Jose Events Center last Thursday night (Dec. 10). Cigarette in hand, wearing a strappy black dress that her breasts kept spilling out of, and sporting sparkles on her tights and in her wild blonde hair, she admonished the photographers below to stop taking pictures of her crotch.

Suddenly this concert–a spectacular show that included sets by Garbage, the Offspring, Cake, Soul Coughing, Everlast and, later, Rancid–wasn’t ticking along quite so predictably anymore. Sure, the other bands were great–Garbage was far more electrifying than any of its albums had prepared me for, and the Offspring had even the most jaded and blasé in the crowd pogoing exuberantly.

But when Hole strutted onstage, Not So Silent Night lost the corporate clockwork feel from which such megashows often suffer. It stopped being a smoothly run pageant of MTV culture and became a punk-pop psychodrama.

Unlike Garbage’s slick, flawless performance, Courtney’s unstable act teetered between sneering, glammed-up sarcasm, sexual teasing and girlish preening. “I want to go get some plastic surgery and go to a movie premiere,” she jeered, opening her riveting performance by mocking all the critics who’ve written her off as “Malibu Courtney.”

The little girls who mobbed the front rows–girls who weren’t even teenagers when a certain grunge god blew his brains out–were bursting with breathless, worshipful admiration as Love launched into her Live Through This classic “Miss World.”

Screams of “I love you, Courtney!” and “You rock!” ricocheted through the front rows. Someone was so overcome that they tossed a baggie of white powder on stage, but Courtney was unimpressed. “This is so pathetic,” she said. “Don’t do this shit–look what it did to my face.” And with that, she emptied it on the stage.

Skin Game

Hole’s newest album, Celebrity Skin, has been widely panned by the rock-critic boys’ club, but as the Yoko Ono of grunge, Love is so despised that the Cobain acolytes would probably have reviled the album whatever it sounded like. The record is surely more polished and pop than Live Through This–grunge is, after all, dead–but when Love stopped acting and started singing, she infused both new and old songs with passion and pathos.

Crooning “Northern Star” with just Eric Erlandson’s guitar for accompaniment, she wrapped her sultry, tobacco-roughened voice around desolate, autobiographical lyrics like “I cried ’cause you were doomed, praying to the wound that swallows all that’s cold and cruel.”

She extended “Malibu” by repeated its most affecting hook–“I’m gonna rescue you, I’m gonna set you free tonight”–over and over until I could feel it in my spine. But when the song was over, she dismissed it with an ironic quip: “That was the closest we could go to a Jewel song.”

That kind of self-consciousness pervaded her act. Love seemed to be trying to preempt all the criticism that Celebrity Skin is too pop. But it was a different kind of irony than the smart-ass antics of bands like Cake and the Offspring.