Courtney Love stumbled, complained and stripped through a bad show at 9:30 Club

By David Malitz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 29, 2010; C01

Imagine a Hole concert that doubles as a complete Courtney Love meltdown. Not too hard to do. Now imagine it being 10 times more disastrous than that -- we're talking one incomplete song after another, offensive and rambling stage banter, exhibitionism, a mass exodus of paying customers. Now imagine it being nearly three hours long. You can start to get a picture of the epic train wreck that was Hole's Sunday night show at the 9:30 Club.

Maybe you watched her recent episode of VH1's "Behind the Music" and thought, "Hey, Courtney's finally getting her act together!" If you were at Sunday's show, you would have thought, "Hey, Courtney is somehow more messed up than ever!" It was an astonishingly and agonizingly awful performance that had a few fleeting moments of redeeming musical value. Song titles, lyrics, guitar chords -- Love remembered only some of them, and infrequently.

But what, really, would have been the best-case musical scenario? A competent re-creation of songs more than a decade old, played by Love and her latest hired hands? Is that what people wanted to see -- Courtney karaoke versions of '90s MTV buzz clips? Maybe. But probably not. Perhaps a bit more professionalism would have been nice, but in 2010 you pay your $45 hoping for the Courtney Love Experience, knowing she's a recovering addict and constant tabloid fodder for, among other things, losing custody of her daughter with the late Kurt Cobain. And Sunday night was an experience like no other.

It's safe to say the people yelling "Bull[expletive]! This is bull[expletive]!" didn't feel that their $45 was well spent. There were more than a handful of patrons shouting and cursing at the endlessly controversial, occasionally coherent 45-year-old rock cliche. Many more simply headed for the exits. Three-quarters-filled at the start, the club was no more than a quarter packed by the excruciating end.

She took the stage nearly an hour past the advertised 9:30 start time, smoking a cigarette and rambling about how she was late because, allegedly, she had just been hanging out with a senator friend. (She left the friend's identity a mystery.)

She also introduced an assistant, Lisa, who was onstage for the entire show filming Love on an iPhone. Not on the side of the stage. Not filming a few songs. The entire show, onstage, often directly in front of Love.

The singer naturally played to the camera more than her fans. She preened, she constantly sang in its direction, she looked like she was trying to seduce it. Love and Lisa huddled before, during and after songs, conferring about what angles to shoot, as if they were Peter Bogdanovich and Laszlo Kovacs.

When one fan near the front complained that Lisa was being obstructive, Love snapped, "[Expletive] you; she's with me."

The between-song chatter was more like a monologue. Ten minutes without playing a song? Sure, let's do that a few times. She talked about her courting style ("I never chase") and being anorexic and bulimic; quizzed fans on the meaning of her late husband Kurt Cobain's lyrics; twice mentioned how The Washington Post hated her new album "Nobody's Daughter"; and name-dropped a "TMZ" episode's worth of celebrities, from Trent Reznor to Diablo Cody to George Clooney, even Douglas Fairbanks.

It's not as if disaster has been the norm on this tour. A Newark Star-Ledger review of Friday's show in Montclair, N.J., said: "Courtney Love didn't screw up any of her guitar parts. She didn't forget any of her choruses. She never lost her place in the set, or looked disoriented during a song. . . . Courtney Love exaggerates her filth." Her New York shows were succinct, hour-long affairs.

When Love did get around to singing, her voice sounded as if something had died in her throat. Love has a blood-curdling howl, by far her most effective asset as a performer. She should have used it more on Sunday. During the choruses of "Miss World" and "Violet" -- two of her best and most popular songs -- she turned the microphone to the crowd and didn't bother singing. Other times she skipped lines in order to cough or take a sip of water or just . . . not sing. Of the nearly 30 songs (or song fragments), not even a handful were completed without some minor disaster.

Love took a request for "Rock Star" despite admitting that she didn't remember how to play it. She stumbled through half the song without strumming one correct chord. She played a new song, "Pretty Your Whole Life." It was bad. Half an hour later, she played it again. It was worse.

Love eventually decided to have some of her fans join her onstage. She started plucking some from the crowd and they simply sat off to the side. "Do you really like rock music?" she asked one young woman. "Because you're African American. That would be like me being into Lil Wayne." She wasn't joking. One fan came onstage with a poster and asked Love to sign it. "No interaction! Go sit over there."

Before the encore, one of Love's handlers told the remaining faithful that they would have to be loud, because there was someone who was waiting to have sex with Love and it would take lots of applause to get her to delay that appointment. Sure enough, Love did reemerge, this time wearing a skin-colored see-through top, sans bra. It would have been blurred out on TV, even on E!

She quickly became self-conscious and asked the audience for a bra. One came flying onto the stage, and Love removed her top to put it on. She did this at the back corner of the stage, so we could only see her bare back. She then repeatedly talked about how the bra was too big for her.

The encore contained a Rolling Stones cover, a Leonard Cohen cover and back-to-back originals "Car Crash" and "Awful." Was this irony or were we well past that?

Most of her backing band had retired for the night by this point, leaving Love and guitarist Micko Larkin alone onstage. Before closer "Northern Star," she ripped off the bra. Obviously. It's actually somewhat surprising she didn't play Nirvana's "Pennyroyal Tea" while topless.

"This is a really weird show," Love had said a bit earlier in perhaps the understatement of the night. "I can't tell if it's really terrible."

Courtney, let me tell you something. In just the past year and a half, I've been to about 400 shows. I've seen some really terrible ones. And this was the most terrible. No question. But the vast majority of those 400 shows, I went there, I saw it and almost immediately forgot I was there. I'll never forget this night with Courtney Love, no matter how much I may want to. And isn't that really what she's always wanted?

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