Photo of Courtney Love above © Melanie Smith
Birmingham 02 Academy
18th May 2014
Notoriously portrayed in rock and roll history, Courtney Love has perhaps nothing else to lose as she embarks on a tour of the UK which sees her play Birmingham’s 02 Academy. Harley Cassidy heads down to see what she makes of Hole’s controversial frontwoman.
Who knows what to expect from Courtney Love? She lacks any sort of filter, is at times abrasive and is often absolutely cuckoo. Her personal life and history overshadowed her music at times, resulting in that long drawn, brain wracking, sweat inducingly difficult Marmite question where you have to do something like decide whether you hate or love someone or something. The one where there’s no ambiguity or balance required but a straight choice of only two results. But here she is tonight anyway, playing the 02 Academy, not even the main room may I add and by the looks of things hers as well as she enters with the remark, “God, this is small”.
You hear her before you see her. Or rather you hear the crowd before you see her. Everyone is desperate to be the first to catch a glimpse of the bleached hair or the outlandish clothing. Tonight, Loves’ fanbase is loyal and whether they’re Cobain purists or not, there’s a lot of love in the room.
Her long, brusk, Californian drawl sardonically cuts through the room. Her guitarist gets some jib along with gin and Simon Cowell. Whether she’s rehearsed the in between song adlibs or not, the claim that she’s been approached by Cowell as a judge for the X Factor doesn’t seem far removed from the truth. Cowell is on a constant search for someone of gold dust quality to lift his trainwreck TV programme to another level and Courtney Love would be, let’s face it, fucking brilliant to watch. Just like she is tonight.
Say what you want about Love, but she’s a phenomenal frontwoman. It’s hard to take your eyes off her. She’s crazy and opinionated but mixes everything with a heavy dose of wit. Plus, she actually sounds great. You know the gigs you watch on YouTube where the vocalist sounds shit because you weren’t there. It’s like watching a Stone Roses or Beady Eye live video on YouTube. You expect Ian and Liam to sound crap but when you watch them live, your whole view and perspective is blown because the atmosphere and their stage presence is so bloody fantastic.
We need more stars like Love who can give as good as they get. She’s pushing fifty, disregarded by the press and outsiders as batshit crazy, slandered for her erratic appearance but here she is, laughing and smiling and ripping the piss out of everything (including herself) whilst wearing a mini skirt and screaming about skinny little bitches. The crowd eat it up and Love declares them the best audience she’s had so far – “better than fucking London”.
The setlist is balanced in terms of how good the songs are. Hole’s finest hits are included and rapturously received including Violet, Miss World and Celebrity Skin, delivered vehemently by Love. There’s some quaky solo work including opener Wedding Day although Love thinks it’s the dogs bollocks, introducing another newbie, You Know My Name, as “really fucking good”. There’s also Fleetwood Mac and Leonard Cohen covers in there alongside an encore cover of The Crystals’ He Hit Me bookended by Northern Star and Doll Parts.
Before tonight’s show, Love was an enigma to me, somebody who I knew and heard a lot about but hadn’t actually experienced. I entered the gig open minded and left open minded, because Love proved to be a highly entertaining artist with just the right amount of caricature and substance to make her, in my eyes, shockingly credible.
Photo gallery all © Melanie Smith:
All words by Harley Cassidy and all photos by Melanie Smith. More writing by Harley on Louder Than War can be found in her author’s archive. More of Melanie’s photos can be found at her website.