Review: Stars and Stripes

Courtney Love: A Hole in her Heart
April 21, 1995, by Dee Dee Doke

“Did Kurt (Cobain) play here the last time?” asked Courtney Love, her blue eyes roaming the depths of the smoke-filled auditorium in Frankfurt, Germany. “I smell ghosts on this stage.”

Sorry, Courtney. We should have been so lucky to have had the ghost of Nirvana’s late singer/songwriter rattling around onstage at the Volksbildungsheim. Instead a dazed, reportedly ill Love — Kurt Cobain’s widow — put a stunned audience to work Monday night as her therapist, punching bag and recipient of lit cigarettes during a 90-minute bath of vitriol and self-indulgence.

The prom queen of modern punk halfheartedly rode her workhorse band Hole through paces from the quartet’s electrifying 1994 album Live Through This and a couple of covers in a meandering session that kept raising The Question everyone wanted to put aside: Were we all there to see Hole featuring Courtney Love or to give into the curiosity about Kurt Cobain’s wife?

If audiences are willing to let Love rise or fall on her own, Love is much less so. She never lets you put aside her marital tie. If Live Through This illuminated Love’s cocksure but tangible talents as a lyricist and a grimy-yet-glittery performer, Love seemed hellbent in performance on aggrandizing her link to the Cobain legend, defiantly dimming her own light under a pall of namedropping.

“I wrote this song in five minutes because I thought my husband was (having sex with) someone,” Love commented before the wrenching Doll Parts. “But he wasn’t.”

At another point, Love asked the crowd what it wanted to hear. “You want to hear (Smells Like) Teen Spirit? Kiss my sweet a–. You want Kurt’s favorite song?” she taunted, then broke into the chorus from the Beatles’ Hey Jude.

“Grunge is dead. OK?”

She also bludgeoned home the Cobain connection with questions about how many people in the audience were Pisceans (sharing the same astrological sign as her late husband) and if anyone had the same name, Fredenberg, as Cobain’s mother.

Love unleashed her rambling spite on a variety of targets, from rockers Pearl Jam (“Everyone in every band is nice except Pearl Jam”), L7 and Smashing Pumpkins to the local German audience. First thumbing her nose at the Germans with a quick snatch of song from Springtime for Hitler, a song featured in a fictional musical in the movie The Producers, Love then coolly took them to task for their treatment of Jews during World War II.

“It makes me want to whip all your a—-,” Love snorted. She thought for a moment and added, “Yeah, and no one in America voted for Nixon.” After another pause, she added, “That went right over your heads.”

Americans in the audience also took their lumps. “Why are there so many Americans here?” she asked. “Go home.”

The remaining three-quarters of Hole — Eric Erlandson, Melissa Auf Der Maur and Patty Schemel — accompanied Love morosely from the shadows. But Love’s cold fury and misery left little space in the spotlight for anyone else.

“I’m sick. I’m sorry,” Love apologized several times. A spokeswoman at City Slang, Hole’s European record label, said Love hurt her hips stage-diving several weeks ago and was still under medication for an infection. The injury forced Hole to cancel its first European dates on the tour.

Only in two songs in the set — a cover of the Replacements’ Are You Satisfied and her Violet from Live Through This — did Love manage to lose herself to the music, spitting out Satisfied with a howling ferocity and taking tight, syncopated control of Violet. The rest of this joyless affair drifted, dragging on the backs of Love’s high heels.

What a waste.

Grief comes in many forms, and Love’s audiences will get ample exposure to its angriest, yet most numbed manifestations on this tour. Live through this.