Courtney Love : California Ventura Theatre

she's back and - perhaps more than ever before - she means business...

It’s been two years since Courtney Love last played live with her old groupHole, and it takes about five seconds to realise just what we’ve been missing while she’s been away. Tonight is a low-key warm-up for a gig she’s playing the following night at the 17,000-capacity Hollywood Bowl supporting Jane’s Addiction. And from the start she’s in apocalyptic mood.

The first thing to note is that her mooted all-girl supergroup Bastard hasn’t materialised. Instead she’s flanked by her old Holecolleague (drummer Patty Schemel) and three established LA musicians (guitarist Steve McDonald, ex of Redd Kross, and two former members of Freaks Of Nature – guitarist Kenny Korade and bassist Jerry Best). They’ve only been playing together for about ten days, so the results, while sporadically thrilling, are also a touch chaotic.

From the moment Courtney strides onstage in a flowing white blouse and blue jeans, she’s got our attention. It takes two songs for her to start slagging off Fred Durstand about two more for her to climb to the top of a speaker stack at the side of the stage and flip the crowd her middle finger.

Better than all the theatrics, though, is the music. Courtney’s replaced the ultra-LA rock sound ofHole‘s 1998 ‘Celebrity Skin’ album with a heavy, fuzzed-up collision of Led Zeppelin and ’60s garage punk. The first song she plays tonight (‘All The Drugs’) is fantastic – Led Zeppelin’s ‘Kashmir’ as covered byThe Strokes. She tops it two songs later with a new one called ‘But Julian, I’m A Little Older Than You’ (named after a meeting she had the week before with Julian Casablancas). It’s a brutal garage rocker that sees her and McDonald screaming [I]”Shut up”[/I] at each other over and over again.

By this point, just in case anyone in Ventura is losing interest, she’s also invited about half the female audience onstage, chucked a pumpkin at a heckler, announced that she’s gay and started crying during another new song, ‘Life Despite God’.

As an affirmation of just what makes her such a star, it couldn’t be any better, and the fact that she’s returned with a sound that’s so vital is a testament to her ongoing ability to gauge just what’s happening in music.

She ends with an obscure punk cover called ‘Help You Ann’ and a ragged acoustic rendition of ‘Northern Star’ (one of the high points of ‘Celebrity Skin’). As she walks off for the last time, her message is clear: she’s back and – perhaps more than ever before – she means business.

James Oldham