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Pop Music Review : 90 Minutes of Soul-Baring, Electrifying Love

November 11, 1994|ROBERT HILBURN | TIMES POP MUSIC CRITIC

When you leave most rock concerts, curious fans who didn't make it in want to know if the show was any good. But the main question one fan had after Courtney Love's concert Wednesday night at the sold-out Hollywood Palladium was whether Love made it through all right.

Fitting.

This was Love's first Los Angeles appearance with her band, Hole, since twin tragedies earlier this year: the suicide of her husband, Kurt Cobain, and the fatal overdose of Hole bassist Kristen Pfaff.

Earlier stops on her first tour since the deaths generated endless tales for the rock 'n' roll grapevine--stories of a fragile victim stumbling through songs, exposing her breasts and . . . well, you know how rock 'n' roll imagination works.

Let's just say that some fans felt that Love--whose mercurial reputation has been colored over the years by drug use and erratic behavior--might not survive long enough to reach Los Angeles.

But, yes, Love and her band did make it to the Palladium and through the concert--splendidly.

Part rock performer, part sideshow attraction, Love is a captivating mix of the frightening emotional abandon of Janis Joplin with the exhilarating artistic daring of Patti Smith.

When Cobain died, many observers predicted that Love's career was over. Even though her band had just released one of the year's most acclaimed albums, "Live Through This," the thinking was that the rock audience would see a tour as exploitation--taking advantage of her late husband's notoriety and fame. Even if she did continue, the strain would be so great that Love could end up as a fragile victim.

But, following a surprisingly tepid set by Veruca Salt--a highly touted new alternative rock group from Chicago--Love was anything but fragile or tentative as she took the stage.

Dressed in her trademark baby-doll dress and white stockings, Love attacked the music with a cocksure, liberating attitude that electrified the crowd.

*

Planting her left foot defiantly on a stage monitor much of the time, she went through songs, from the old "Teenage Whore" through "Violet" and "Miss World," that are filled with dark, sobering reflections on obsession and betrayal and that have decidedly unhappy endings.

There is reason for her confidence. Hole--Eric Erlandson on guitar, Patty Schemel on drums and Melissa Auf der Maur on bass--is a splendid band, able to convey equally the explosiveness and vulnerability of the music.

As Love sometimes sang with primal force, both she and the crowd seemed wound so tight emotionally that you felt the raw punk electricity of old Sex Pistols or Clash shows.

The most gripping moment was in "Doll Parts," a song from the album that was written before Cobain's death, but seems to summarize the burdens associated with her since then.

The key phrase was mesmerizing as she repeated it six, eight, 10 times, each with a slightly different coloring, "Someday . . . you will ache like I ache."

When she returned for the encore, dressed only in a black slip, it was time to celebrate, and she brought her and Cobain's 2-year-old daughter, Frances, with her.

"I don't care if I'm exploiting my child," she said in a cocky but good-natured way. "It's the only successful thing that I've done in my life."

She later capped the show by trying to establish a bond with the audience the same way many male performers, including Cobain, have done over the years: She dove headfirst into the crowd pressed against the front of the stage. Inevitably, Love's slip was pulled down as she was held aloft by the crowd.

Security guards brought her a towel to cover up with as they helped her back on stage, but neither she nor the crowd acted as if it were that big a deal. After you've seen Love bare her soul for 90 minutes, breasts don't seem all that shocking.

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