A Courtney Love show is like NASCAR: People say they go for the races, but secretly they wouldn’t mind if something hit the wall and burst into flames.
Those anticipating a good pile-up were no doubt sorely disappointed by Love’s hometown gig Thursday with the new edition of Hole. Promoting her Mercury album “Nobody’s Daughter,” which reaches stores Tuesday, the grunge diva was on her best behavior in an apparent attempt to put past public spectacles behind her. The group’s short, occasionally addled but wearyingly straightforward evening ultimately left one longing for an onstage freakout or two to break the monotony.
Making her entrance in an eye-catching silver lame and chiffon outfit and flashing a cherry-red Rickenbacker, Love, in strong yet typically limited voice, yowled through “Pretty On the Inside” before meandering into a stillborn version of the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy For the Devil.” She then offered the crowd a first taste of the new album with the vitriolic, profane “Skinny Little Bitch.”
The date proceeded without any particular distinction, alternating between fresh numbers like “Someone Else’s Bed” (which stood out from the pack thanks to Love’s vamping delivery) and “Nobody’s Daughter” as well as tried-and-true oldies like “Malibu” and “Miss World.” With Love wooing the crowd by pressing the flesh with fans at the front of the stage, tossing guitar picks into the house and even thanking everyone for coming (!), there was little to engage either sensation-seekers or hardcore music fans.
Love’s current uninspiring crew of hired guns, standing in for guitarist Eric Erlandson and other members of the long-gone Hole posse, constituted the night’s primary weakness. For most of the set, the three-piece unit (augmented by an unidentified guitarist who hovered upstage, alternating between acoustic and electric axes) blasted out an undistinguished wall of noise that grew fatiguing midway through the performance. A brutally loud, unfocused mix did little to help matters.
Things got promisingly weird when, after a mere 35 minutes, Hole veered through another brief, incomplete stab at “Sympathy For the Devil” and abruptly left the stage, throwing the audience into confused silence. But, after a couple of minutes, Love returned, now adorned in a bright red dress and white jacket.
The girl with the most cake obliged with a jolt through the career curtain-raiser “Doll Parts,” then surprised with an nearly unrecognizable cover of the Stones’ condemnatory “Play With Fire.” The band stalked off again, but Love and guitarist Micko Larkin soon retook the stage again – the singer remarking with precision, “That felt short, right?” – to close things out with a subdued acoustic rendition of the ballad “Northern Star.”
As the chattering crowd hit the exits, no one sounded as if they felt disappointed or ripped off. But, absent the atmosphere of unpredictability and danger that animated Hole shows of yore, they couldn’t have been terribly thrilled, either.