Live review: Hole/Foxy Shazam/Little Fish

No matter how much she screws up, the power of Love's fury remains undiminished

Which way’s it gonna go? The room heaves with breathless rubberneckers waiting for the crash, jostling for lines of sight with rabid 15-year-old girls in tiaras and clompety boots trapped inside 20-something women who’ve been waiting over a decade for this moment. It could be incendiary. It could be crushing. It might be all new material…

And then – the brutal, slashed chords of the title track of Hole’s debut album [b]‘Pretty On The Inside’[/b]. That raw, grating yowl, still unlike any other voice you’ve ever heard. So far, we’re still believing.

With everything that’s happened over the intervening years since the defiant crossover triumph of [b]‘Celebrity Skin’[/b], the financial farragos, the drugs, the break-up of her band, the custody battles over her daughter, the public spats, the Twitter rants, there’s a lot to overcome tonight.

Proving herself has never been Courtney’s style, though, and a cocky segue into [b]‘Sympathy For The Devil’[/b] sets the tone. The classics rip through the crowd on a purely hormonal level, [b]‘Miss World’[/b]’s rancorous, bitter chant of “[i]I made my bed/I’ll lie in it[/i]” rippling through the bodies. You have to feel sorry for support acts Little Fish and Foxy Shazam, whose angsty, glossy alt.rock and deranged New York Dolls comedy sketches, respectively, would normally have impressed; tonight, they’ve no chance.

Thankfully, Hole’s new stuff is alright, too: [b]‘Skinny Little Bitch’[/b] is rollicking and ferocious, the freeway radio rock, grunge-tinged sound she’s inhabited since ‘America’s Sweetheart’, pleasantly roughed-up and raw-edged. [b]‘Honey’[/b] is a classic Courtney psychoanalytical drama, ploughing a familiar heartbroken lyrical furrow… “[i]He goes down, down to his bitter end[/i]”, she intones, slowly windmilling her arms. The gawpers love it. [b]‘Letter To God’[/b] revels in grisly self-obsession, Linda Perry’s emotion-heavy power ballad gently cushioning Courtney’s line “[i]I never wanted to be some kind of comic relief[/i]”.

[b]‘Never Go Hungry Again’[/b] is perhaps the most affecting moment, a dusty Dylan-ish strummer that’s subtly bleak. [b]‘Violet’[/b], their purest, most tremendous moment, is undeniable, Courtney’s vicious bark of “VIOLENT” embodying brute, ineffable rage. “Not so bad for an old lady,” she concludes at the end.

And this is the thing; even though ‘Violet’ feels slightly botched, even though the new songs mainly roll along in a pleasant enough mid-paced grungey radio rock sort of way and her new band of whippersnappers are a little too polite, even though Courtney mixes up words to [b]‘Celebrity Skin’[/b] and admits “[i]I’m a little rusty on the guitar… I have a teleprompter[/i]”, you realise that, really, it doesn’t matter. Hole were always less of a band than they were a cult of personality, and tonight the personality herself is on top form, issuing a defiantly messy howl of “[i]someday you will ache like I ache[/i]” to conclude a potent [b]‘Doll Parts’[/b]. In a weird way, the more she flirts with disaster, the more powerful Courtney is. She’ll suck up your hate and blast it back in your face like a tempest.

[b]Emily Mackay[/b]