Review: Rolling Stone Online

MGD Blind Date with Hole
October 14, 1998, by Jim Irvin

To a converted cinema in a shabby part of North London they came: 500 Americans awaiting the apogee of a wild weekend. The Forum is awash with the sponsor’s revolting beer, and there’s an atypical buffet of dubious cold cuts — though everywhere you look, happy couples are chowing down on each other’s faces — but who’s providing the music for this bacchanal? Two bands, we’re told. That’s all we know.

The 8 p.m. start time comes and goes and anticipation billows nicely. It’s strangely enjoyable having no idea who you’re going to see, although I’ve been anticipating the worst all day, offering silent prayer that it won’t be Green Day, Everclear or, please God, Smashing Pumpkins. Finally, the giant screen obscuring the stage ascends. There’s a stunned pause followed by a raucous cheer. “That’s Courtney Love! It’s Hole!”

Goodness, the one-time doyenne of anti-corporate rock! “I heard she’d do anything for a beer, but this is ridiculous,” laughs a woman behind me. But when they kick into “Celebrity Skin”, there’s no denying it: New Radio-Friendly Hole rock harder than a grandma with a grudge. Whatever her shortcomings on record, Courtney Love is extremely good value on a stage — deliciously unpredictable and yet reliably vulgar, mischievous, funny and vain. Tonight, once she realizes the crowd is almost entirely American (as if no one had told her in advance), her mission is to upset the few Brits in the crowd. “Nothing wrong with the British, they just seem to forget that we won the war!” (Cue jingoistic American cheer.)

Melissa Auf Der Maur tells us they haven’t played in front of a party crowd like this in a long time. Though relaxed, Courtney takes her usual verbal sideswipes at current obsessions that the crowd couldn’t care less about. Tonight Lilith Fair feels the rough end of her tongue, and then the British class system: “It sucks. They should give it up and read the fucking Constitution!” Our nation’s problems solved at a stroke! Hooray for the plucky blonde gal!

She’s obviously defensive about the new pop tunes in the set, but they sound fine. One of the best moments is a surprise cover of Them’s arrangement of Bob Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”. Courtney loses her guitar and starts smacking a tambourine on her hip, fanning her fingers and shimmying tits-first to the mic, ass-twitching in a near-perfect impression of early Mick Jagger in one of his tarty moods.

She’s at her best when free to preen like this. Hole’s engine no longer runs on bile, it seems. There’s none of the disaffected anger of “Teenage Whore” (which they don’t play). Apart from a fearsome “Beautiful Son,” the songs don’t connect that way any more. It’s Courtney’s showwomanship, her lurid hybrid of Mae West, Joan Rivers and Joan Jett that rules. That said, she’s not so slick she can avoid the intensity flagging. Despite rabid approval during the set, Hole received a strangely muted send-off. Someone has to come on and demand more noise before Courtney can skip on and pose all through an encore.

The screen comes down and the buzz goes up. They’ve won a contest, been flown over to London, put up in a swank hotel for a weekend, seen Hole as a support band. You can imagine the kind of anticipation that’s crackling in the air about who’s going to bring this crowd to climax. One group near me are expecting nothing less than U2.

“I wanna see R.E.M.,” a guy called Dave says to my notepad. Just then the curtain goes up again, revealing a bunch of old warhorses dressed in black. It takes a while before my eyes sweep stage left and spy a thundercloud of hair. “Yes! The Cure! The fuckin’ Cure!” shouts a guy by my ear. Dave looks supremely crestfallen.

The crowd is similarly divided. The gothy types are getting over the shock with dazed, disbelieving smiles. Those in baseball caps pull faces, but after a pummeling “Shake Dog Shake” everybody roars hello anyway and someone throws a welcoming pair of boxers at the stage.

I wonder if an all-British crowd of the same vintage would have been so delighted to see Robert, Simon and Co. appearing as their own tribute band? Personally, I’ve managed to avoid seeing the Cure at every available opportunity in the last twenty years. But I’d imagine this show is remarkably similar to any in that time. Robert Smith looks/sounds/does exactly the same as always. His “act” consisting merely of backcombing his hair before he goes on.

When you’re relying on the material to do the work, it’s a shame to have to wrestle with such a boomy, cavernous sound — as if the thud ‘n’ rumble of the old songs alone wasn’t enough. “Fascination Street” and “A Hundred Years” win through nonetheless, but the mix doesn’t favor the claustrophobic intimacy of “Close To Me” or “Lullaby”. The concrete-booted funk feel of “Never Enough” and other, more recent songs becomes unlistenable as it careens off the walls and swamp the ears. The invitation to “Go on, go on, just walk away” during “In Between Days” is too tempting. When it’s over the crowd — presumably succumbing to a lovely, beer-fueled nostalgic glow — goes absolutely wild. I go absolutely home.