Star Tribune photo by Brendan Sullivan
Courtney Love was one of us. She really was. She kept reminding her fans of that during her late-night concert Friday at First Avenue.
After giving shout-outs to the CC Club and Grain Belt beer, Love talked about living in Minneapolis for three years (’87-’89) where she had an alter ego named Cricket Nordstrom from “E-dean-a.” (Good memory, bad pronunciation, Courtney.) Oh, she went on and on, about writing songs here, hanging out at First Avenue and “pretty much losing my virginity” in the backroom of the famous rock club in which she was now performing.
All this yakking wasn’t one of Love’s infamous meltdowns. In fact, she was remarkably coherent, aware and even funny, at times. And her performance was better than expected, especially considering the reviews of her mostly erratic comeback tour, which included an infamous three-hour debacle in Washington D.C. last month that was read about round the world. However, at First Ave, she was sometimes fierce, mostly focused and generally punkishly professional.
In short, it was a treat, not a trainwreck.
Working with four new hired guns in the latest incarnation of her on-again, off-again band Hole, Love needed two recorded songs to welcome her – the “dearly beloved” beginning of Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” and a taste of Ravel’s Bolero. Finally taking the stage shortly before 1 a.m. (about 80 minutes after the warmup act finished), she opened with a snippet of Hole’s “Pretty on the Inside” (“I believe this riff was written six blocks from here, or maybe it was at Goofy’s before they outlawed stripping”) and then did a truncated version of the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil.”
Just when you might have sensed a disaster like the D.C. show in which she never played a song in its entirety, Love, 46, shifted into professional punk mode. The next 75 minutes were up and down, more because of the quality of the songs than the performances. She tore it up on “Skinny Little Bitch,“ from Hole’s new disc “Nobody’s Daughter,” and “Violet,” a classic from the group’s celebrated 1994 album “Live Through This.”
While Love seemed more edgy than over the edge, there were a couple of moments when she reminded the half-full nightclub that she’s an unrepentant narcissist. “How many of you had sex with me?” she asked as she surveyed the crowd. “It’s like 10 or something. I’m looking for baldness.”
Most of the set felt like a well-executed throwback to Hole’s speedo riff-rock 1990s heyday but a couple of new songs and covers attempted to stretch Love’s artistic range. Her reading of Leonard Cohen’s “Take This Longing” seemed like an actress doing Bob Dylan, but her stripped down, slowed down interpretation of Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer” was almost artful in a Marianne Faithfull sort of way.
There were a few times when Love actually tried to sing with musicality instead of braying with her familiar grungey angst. In homage to Minneapolis, she and guitarist Micko Larkin did the Replacements’ “Unsatisfied” with low-key emotionalism. But she was dissatisfied with her performance, which put her in a momentary funk that led to perfunctory renderings of the Hole hits “Doll Parts” and “Malibu.”
However, Love summoned ferocious intensity on the encore of the new “Samantha” and the old “Awful,” before closing with the acoustic “Never Go Hungry,” which proved that she can emote on a melodic ballad.
She’s clearly come along way since writing her first song ever in Minneapolis – a verse of which she sang Friday -- about John Joyce building a snowman that never melts and “when he took his trust from me/I wonder how it felt.”