Review: San Francisco Chronicle

A Hole in Her Soul
December 12, 1998, by Neva Chonin

Love too self-absorbed to inspire San Jose crowd.

From the moment she charged onstage at the Event Center at San Jose State University Thursday night, Courtney Love let the crowd know she still had some fire in her veins, despite her pink lipstick and matching guitar.

“You better f– mosh for us like you did for the Offspring, or I’ll kick your ass,” the singer warned the sold- out crowd at Live 105’s “Not So Silent” Christmas concert, which also included short sets from Rancid, Garbage, Cake, Everlast and Soul Coughing.

In front of the stage, an army of 12-year-old girls squealing “Cooouurtneey!” moshed on command. But in contrast to the preceding Offspring set, which transformed every body on the floor into a giddily misfiring piston, Love and her band, Hole, could only inspire its own fan-girls and boys to get into the groove.

The rest of the crowd simply stood and gawked at the singer as if she were a two-dimensional TV character — which, for many of them, is exactly what she is.

Love — she of the overexposed body and limited body of work — is under pressure to woo those disinterested voyeurs. As 1998 winds down, the stardom that began with her brilliant 1994 album “Live Through This” and climaxed with her award-winning performance in Milos Forman’s “The People Vs. Larry Flynt” is flickering close to extinction.


Her latest film for Forman, an Andy Kaufman biography starring Jim Carrey, will either resurrect her film career or bury it, and her new album, “Celebrity Skin,” is tumbling down the charts despite a massive media blitz by her record company, Geffen. Many of her longtime fans have been alienated by the album’s polished pop, and her new fans are barely into their training bras.

One of them should have tossed her idol a training bra on Thursday night. Throughout Hole’s 45-minute set — one of only a few the band will have played in 1998 — the spotlight wasn’t on Love’s music so much as her breasts, which insisted on popping out of her ridiculously low-cut evening sheath. Even when they stayed put, they were relentlessly caressed and squeezed by their owner, who seems incapable of leaving her stripper days behind and for whom musical performance seems to have become an excuse for auto-erotic exhibitionism.

Or maybe it was simply a bid for attention from a woman who senses the world’s eyes wandering. Bedecked in glitter from her tights to her hair, Love was in pure seduction mode.

The set’s second song was a sure crowd pleaser, “Miss World,” whose anthemic refrain soon had every fan in the house singing along. And when a plastic bag of white powder — salt? non-dairy creamer? — was tossed onstage as a testament to her druggy past, she used it as an opportunity to win over the crowd by poking fun at herself.

Dumping the contents on the stage, she quipped, “Don’t do that s–. I mean, look what it did to my face.” The comment, addressing rumors of her extensive plastic surgery, won appreciative applause.


But such moments were rare. It matters little that Hole’s volatile singer is clean and sober. For Love, Love is the drug, and she was flying high in her own trippy world on Thursday night.

She diluted the visceral punch of “Dying” and “Northern Star” with self-conscious gestures. Hands over heart, eyes raised heavenward, at times she looked more like the heroine of some soppy fin de siecle tearjerker than a rock star.

To be fair, when she cut the acting, she shined. Especially impressive were the current singles “Malibu” and “Celebrity Skin” and her signature track, “Doll Parts,” for which she cut loose with all the sound and fury of the messy-but-brilliant Courtney of ’94.

The rest of Hole — bassist Melissa Auf Der Maur, long-suffering guitarist Eric Erlandson and new drummer Samantha Maloney — simply held the fort down. A solid trio, they suffered, particularly on the newer material, from Love’s unwillingness to stop gesticulating long enough to play her guitar.

In many ways Love is the Norma Desmond of the ’90s — overblown, overwrought and stubbornly narcissistic. Whether she shares the fate of the fading star from “Sunset Boulevard” remains to be seen. She has the will to fame, but when she’s ready for her close-up, will anyone bother?