Concert Review: Courtney Love at Warsaw (Brooklyn): June 26, 2013
Last night I attended my third ever Courtney Love show, this one in an obscure Polish club in Williamsburg, Brooklyn called Warsaw. The first time was at the Roseland Ballroom in February 1995, less than a year after the release of Live Through This (and Kurt Cobain’s suicide) when Love was at the peak of her abilities but also completely strung out on heroin. The second time was at Terminal 5 in April 2010, concurrent with the release of Nobody’s Daughter, a vastly underrated album and the last one under the name of her band Hole.
For this tour Love has officially dissociated from Hole, performing as Courtney Love solo artist, but the difference between that and Hole has become academic. Perhaps it’s because she’s been relegated to playing clubs with less than 1,000 person capacity, Love has changed dramatically in the three years since I’d last seen her. In 2010 a subdued, unemotional Love mostly disappointed a capacity crowd by lethargically marching through what was actually a terrific setlist. The consensus after that show was that for those of us who saw Love in the ‘90s (either on the Live Through This or Celebrity Skin tour), we’d have been better off keeping our memories pure and skipping the show. Anyone going to see Love play in 2010 is almost certainly a fan from the grunge heyday and expects to see the crazy aggressive woman we’ve grown to both love and hate. If I were to have assessed Love’s mental state based on seeing that one show, I would have surmised that she was apologetic and shameful for her behavior over the prior decade and wanted to show the crowd that she could be the opposite of all that. But no fan of Hole wants the opposite of Courtney Love; we just want the rage to be fun, like it was in the early ‘90s, and not quite so angry, like it was in the mid-late ‘90s.
Now completely self-aware, Love dubs her current tour the “I’m Still Alive” tour. The only merchandise sold at the show was a single t-shirt and a matching screen print, done in the style of the Sex Pistols “God Save the Queen” but with a modified picture of Love and the words “of rock” added below. It’s obviously tongue-in-cheek, but at the same time Love should be able to make an argument that, at age 48, she finally is the Queen of Rock. Her voice isn’t what it once was, as she often let the audience take over certain lyrics when they were beyond her range, but she can still scream, her range is still pretty good especially at the lower end of the scale, and best of all, she can positively entertain the crowd.
Like in 2010, Love isn’t angry anymore. But she isn’t emotionless and subdued either. She stepped on stage with a cigarette in her mouth, a sign that a little bit of the old Courtney was back. After two songs, she broke the ice by telling the crowd to repeat after her … then screaming at the top of her lungs, “Fuck You!” The crowd screamed back, “FUCK YOU!!” and Love responded, “Good, now I feel like we’ve established a rapport.” There wasn’t a lot of banter in the beginning, but you could see Love get comfortable as she played “Malibu” several songs in. The highlight of the night was in the middle of the set when Love played “Malibu” and “Violet” back to back, telling a funny anecdote in between about how she stole Axl Rose’s teleprompter so she could read the chords as she plays, which she needs to do because she’s “getting old.” I recall in 2010 that when she played new songs (anything off of Nobody’s Daughter) she apologized to the crowd for playing new material. Courtney Love actually apologized. This time around, before playing “Samantha,” she asked her lead guitarist – who appears to be 12 years old but has actually been playing with Love for eight – whether they should play something that the crowd doesn’t know “just to amuse ourselves. After all, it’s about a whore.” Then, before starting the song, she told the crowd, “You don’t know this fucking song. But you should.”
The shy, timid Courtney Love from a few years ago is just a hazy memory for me now, replaced completely by the bad-ass I saw last night at Warsaw. Last week Love gave an interview where she talked about wanting to be entertaining but not being into nostalgia. She understands that fans want to hear older material and so she isn’t going to deprive them of that, but on the other hand she’s not doing a greatest hits show. “I play the old songs, of course I play the old songs, but you know I play the ones that I’m in the mood to play.” While Billy Corgan declared that “nostalgia is death” – a sentiment that Love agrees with – she is, unlike Corgan, a pragmatist, backing away from the slogan by saying, “I don’t know—I don’t think ‘nostalgia is death’ is the greatest sound bite, do you?”
Love admitted in that interview that “I don’t do ‘Doll Parts’ every night, I can’t stand that song on some nights.” As if on cue, she told the crowd at Warsaw that she was playing “one more song” and it was “only because he [the drummer] wants her to play it.” She went on as only Love could: “I’m gonna hate it as I’m playing it but I’m gonna try and get into it. Kinda like giving blow jobs…. So when you listen to the song, think of it as a blow job.” And of course, she then ended the night with “Doll Parts,” playing to the crowd halfway through by saying “you know, I think I’m starting to like this.” It’s apparent that Love has grown up – she made references throughout the night about how old she is – and has outgrown all of the issues that plagued her in the 1990s and beyond. She still loves to scream, and probably has a bigger fondness for the word “f**k” than anyone else in the world, but it’s now used to entertain rather than to shock (as in her early career) or antagonize (as in her mid-career). Phase 3 of Love’s life may be an act, but it’s a damn good one.
Setlist: Courtney Love @ Warsaw, Brooklyn: 6/26/2013:
Skinny Little Bitch
Pacific Coast Highway
For Once In Your Life
Asking For It
// break //
Reasons to be Beautiful
Take This Longing [Leonard Cohen cover]