Review: The Plain Dealer

Courtney Love Proves Herself to be a Perfect Rocker
December 5, 1994, by Michael Norman

The last time rock’s prom-queen punk Courtney Love played Cleveland with her band Hole she was too drunk to do much of anything but ramble incoherently and expose her breasts.

Friday night at the Agora Theater things were very different.

Love, who is perhaps best known as the headline-generating wife of Nirvana’s late Kurt Cobain, tore the roof off the packed 1,700-seat theater in a stunning 90-minute concert. It was a dynamic, almost supernatural, performance, with Love leading bandmates Eric Erlandson, Patty Schemel and Melissa Auf Der Maur on an explosive musical journey through Hole’s two great albums, “Pretty on the Inside” and “Live Through This.”

Love wasn’t exactly sober. She knocked back several Screwdrivers during the course of the evening and admitted to popping a Valium before the show.

But it didn’t seem to matter. This time, she was in total control from start to finish – blasting through a 21-song set that mixed angry punk chaos, simmering riot girl rock and dark, almost folkish, introspection.

Between songs, Love told jokes and stories and traded insults with young men in the crowd, particularly those who repeatedly yelled for her to shed her clothes. She also got off a couple of shots at Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor, dropping hints about their rumored affair and calling him “my ex-friend from Cleveland.”

At the end of the show, she dragged several young girls out of the audience and onto the stage, then led them through guitar and singing lessons like a punk-rock den mother.

When they finished, Love – barefoot and dressed in a short, white nightie – dove into the mosh pit in front of the stage. She seemed genuinely surprised and angry when the teenage boys in the pit ripped her clothes off and stole her underwear. Security guards rescued her. One gave her his sweatshirt to wear.

The antics didn’t detract from the music, however.

Love’s lyrics explore her various, often conflicting, roles in life – mother, wife, lover, celebrity – with a mixture of rage, cynicism, desperation, humor, hope and longing. She sings about motherhood (“I Think That I Would Die”) and drug addiction (“Credit in the Straight World”) with equal knowledge and conviction. She is both attracted and repulsed by fame (“Miss World,” “She Walks on Me”). And her attitude toward love (“Softer, Softest,” “Doll Parts”) is equally ambivalent.

Her husband’s suicide adds a stark, compelling underpinning to Love’s soul-searching. She’s been to hell, but is still trying to figure things out and sort through some of life’s contradictions.

The music conveys those contradictions with a combination of punk anarchy and folk-rock delicacy. Soft pop verses give way to thundering rock choruses, a la Nirvana. Love’s voice ranges from a nursery-rhyme innocence to hellish punk-rock wail.

When it all comes together, as it did on Friday, Love seems to be the perfect embodiment of rock ‘n’ roll. She can be hard or soft, ugly or sexy, defiant or insecure. She is charismatic and mysterious, dangerous and alluring, a soul in pain, the devil on the prowl.

She is us – only more talented and entertaining.

A true rock ‘n’ roll original.