Review: The Daily Yomiuri

Hole’s Courtney Love Thrillingly Unpredictable
February 5, 1995, by W. Blake Gray

This statement borders on grunge blasphemy, but Courtney Love is more exciting in concert than her late husband was.

Leader of the Seattle-based grunge band Hole, Love is thrillingly unpredictable, whether pulling an obnoxious fan up on stage to make a fool of himself, or singing snippets of surprising roots material like Duran Duran and Cheap Trick, or stage diving because, she apologized to her frazzled security people, “I was bored.”

Perhaps, one day, Love and her band will escape the heavy shadow of her departed and now-unimpeachable soulmate, Kurt Cobain. Their 1994 album Live Through This, as well as their 95-minute set at Shinjuku Liquid Room Jan. 31, show painfully direct honesty and extreme intensity, yet without the unbearable bitterness that is often inseparable from the genre.

However, although she rarely invokes grunge’s self-sacrificed lamb, everything Love says and does is interpreted in the heavy vacuum of Cobain’s absence. For Nirvana fans, it’s hard not to feel a lump in the throat watching her seething anger as she yells the chorus, “If you live through this with me I swear that I will die for you.”

Yet Love is no self-pitier, and she stands obstinately, and aggressively, on her own merits. After one song, she announced, “Me and (drummer) Patty (Schemel) and Kurt wrote that song when we were drunk once. But I didn’t say that before because you’d pretend to like it.”

Her stage pronouncements are shocking and challenging. Unlike most Tokyo visitors, she challenged the adoring girls shrieking her name, saying, “What? Nani?” as if she expected an answer. She also seemed accustomed to her role in the tabloid media as cartoon bad girl.

“I was here once,” she said. “I danced in Roppongi without my shirt on. Yes, I did, and I got deported. Oh, now it’ll be in all the tabloids. I just (expletive deleted) myself. Why do I tell you people this? Because I don’t have any friends, that’s why.”

Her invitation on stage to an obnoxious North American fan was a great kick for all concerned. The band, smiling, played Deep Purple’s “Woman from Tokyo,” while the bleached-blond ruffian struggled in the spotlight to come up with any lyrics at all. Finally he bellowed something that sounded like, “Tokyo rock and roll, all right!” Whereupon Courtney grabbed him by the shirt, kissed him on the lips, and shoved him roughly toward the lip of the stage, insisting that he jump back from whence he came; as he did, she summed up his existence with a profanity that alternately amused and confused the Japanese fans.

Thankfully, more than just a one-woman carnival, Hole is an entertaining band musically. Hole’s resident male, Eric Erlandson, provides the necessary guitar hooks to make the songs easy to remember, while Schemel’s authoritative thrashing leads the band through its many ventures into cacophony.

Overall, Hole’s sound is surprisingly clean and listenable for such a loud and aggressive band. Maybe that’s attributable to their deceptively nice harmonies.

Love’s contribution to Hole goes far beyond her tabloid infamy and overwhelming presence. Familial comparisons notwithstanding, her songwriting is surprisingly nuanced from someone who often seems so angry. Live, her powerful singing is the band’s main musical attraction. She shifts deftly from screaming, her strongest asset, to softly crooning.

Like someone else, she revels in singing snippets of other groups’ music that she enjoys. And her delivery seems always heartfelt, possibly because her songs are largely personal, and also possibly because Hole hasn’t been around long enough to be bored with their own material, although to judge from Love’s audible on stage discussions with her bandmates about what songs to play, that time may be rapidly approaching.

Ultimately, though, it is Love’s direct, in-your-face personality, that makes Hole compelling.

When she announced that Schemel, who she called band’s “resident lesbian,” was the first female drummer to grace the cover of “Drum World” magazine, she was so distressed at the lukewarm applause from the probably uncomprehending audience that she screamed, “Louder than that or I’m walking off the stage now. Louder! Louder!”

Looking at her, you had to believe she meant it. Naturally, everyone yelled louder. Sad to say, Love seems as if she would be unbearable to spend an entire weekend with in person, but when watching her perform, there never seems to be enough time.