with Foxy Shazam
Hard Rock Live, Orlando, Fl • July 3, 2010
If it involves Courtney Love it’s probably going to be a bit of a disaster, but — if you’re lucky — a beautifully memorable one. Her most recent stunt, putting together a band full of players and resurrecting the name “Hole,” is no exception. Even before the tour backing the “band’s” first album in 12 years (Nobody’s Daughter) began, it was making headliners and Courtney was, once more, the butt of many jokes. Every subsequent show has resulted in almost universal plowing by critics and raving from the fans that went in with far fewer expectations.
“Even if it’s awful, it’s still Courtney Love so I don’t even care!” one excited girl said to her friend upon entering Orlando’s Hard Rock Live for an embarrassingly undersold date of the tour.
“I’ve been waiting to see Hole since I was nine years old,” another front row fan told me before following up with the plea, “please don’t say anything bad about Courtney in your review.”
My trip to Hole circa 2010 came with its own baggage: I saw Hole in 1995, hot on the heels of the release of the incomparable Live Through This, back when Eric Erlandson, Patty Schmel, and Melissa Auf de Maur filled out the lineup. This was Courtney in the midst of her madness and her stage presence was incredible — intimidating, strangely sexy, and so very bad-ass, if a little out of her mind. The show I attended became slightly infamous for the resulting prosecution of Love, by the city of Orlando, for physically assaulting a teenager in the crowd. I was standing behind the guy she punched — it was a pretty awesome experience for a 16-year-old fan who had essentially snuck out of her parent’s house to get there!
I came to this show as a fan; I didn’t set out to look for the holes in Hole’s performance… but they presented themselves regardless.
Strike One came in the form of a half-empty venue attended, in large part, by uninterested folks who were given free tickets in Hard Rock’s attempt to fill the place and up the bar sales. A downer from the get-go, thankfully the opening band turned out to be remarkably mood altering.
Foxy Shazam is bridging the gap between post-emo dance pop and epic classic rock. It sounds hideous, but it’s not. Imagine the over-the-top production of Meatloaf and the larger-than-life theatrics of Queen as performed by a bunch of wired twenty-somethings ripped from the colorful catalogs of Alternative Press magazine — this doesn’t even begin to describe the drop-everything-and-watch show that Foxy Shazam put on, but it’s as close as I can get without posting a video.
Musically, the Ohio group has a few tricks up their sleeves in the form of keyboardist extraordinaire Sky White (like an acrobatic Elton John who can play his instrument upside down or with his feet, while standing atop it), and horn man Alex Nauth — whose playful persona onstage shadows that of the group’s secret weapon, front man Eric Nally. The thin man with the high octave voice does somersaults, does goofy tricks with his microphone, eats a mouthful of lit cigarettes, tells elaborate stories with a carnival pitch approach, and creates a general feeling of entertainment for the 30-odd minutes that his band graces the stage.
At the heart of all of this child-like fun are songs so layered with levels of pop purity that Nally’s antics, rather than acting as a distraction, reinforce the catchy nature of the tunes — sinking them into your brain. Days later you’ll still be singing the choruses to “Wanna Be Angel,” “Unstoppable,” “Killin’ It,” and “Bomb’s Away” — the latter song being one that Nally himself loves so much that he led the band through it a second time immediately after playing it.
Foxy Shazam did exactly what warm up acts are supposed to do — they warmed us the hell up! Had the show’s headliners taken advantage of this and started their set at the assigned time, the night would have had a different tone. As it was, Hole did not step foot onto the dark stage for another hour and a half after Foxy Shazam exited to a roaring applause. As the minutes creeped on, even the most diehard fans down front started bitching.
And what was the big hold up? Courtney Love admitted, after putting out her cigarette, “sorry I made you wait, but the last time I came to Orlando you all put me on trial for two months.” Harping on this fact and blaming the current audience for something that happened 15 years ago was a recurring, and disappointing, theme of the night.
There was much rambling, and at times the clean and healthy looking Love appeared bored or annoyed to be there, but there were also a few glorious moments during which the old Courtney Love that fans know and adore — the one who can growl and scream emotion into the most simple lyrics — reared her bleached blonde head.
For starters, she opened up the night with the opening verse of “Pretty on the Inside” — before sliding into a so-so cover of The Rollings Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil.” Hot on the heels of this minor setback, she found her footing with “Miss World” and her most recent sure-to-be-classic “Skinny Little Bitch.” Her vocals were strong, even if she did cheat a lyric here and there by turning her mic and letting the crowd fill in, and presence with the guitar slung low and one high heeled show propped up on a footstool was quintessential Courtney Love.
The setlist was riddled with “old familiars,” as she called them, and even if she didn’t always perform them happily (“All you wanna hear is old familiars, right? Yeah, that kinda sucks, but whatever. I’ll meet you there 70% of the time”). They elicited the largest screams of the night. “Violet,” “Awful,” “Plump,” and “Dolls Parts” — they all got air time and sounded as viciously empowered as ever. Even some of the new songs rocked with the best of them, “Someone Else’s Bed” and “Nobody’s Daughter” may be played at a slower pace than those oldies we’re accustomed to, but they had plenty of bite.
Littered throughout the night were loads of cover songs, including a painfully off Leonard Cohen song, more Rolling Stones, and a nearly unrecognizable rendition of Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer.” That latter tune was prefaced with the comment, “the man who wrote this song hates me and will hate that I’ve been playing this song.”
In between songs, Love rattled on about everything from her bad credit score and how stage diving isn’t allowed in Florida because of her (not true), to a shared dialogue with a young kid in the crowd to whom she had once sent one of Kurt Cobain’s guitars (why?). The conversation with the kid resulted in him admitting that he no longer had the guitar, that it was stolen. To this Love replied, characteristically snake tongued, “It was stolen? Oh, so now the Hard Rock probably has it.”
For the most part her diatribes deflated the mood created by the music, but then again her back-up band could also be to blame for this. With the exception of lead guitarist Micko Larkin, who tried a little too hard to be on equal footing as a member of Hole, the band played with the bare minimum of energy. Bassist Shawn Dailey, who was in Rock Kills Kid, even had to be scolded by Love at one point to play his bass part correctly. Courtney Love’s huge presence needs a balance onstage — she needs a band who can fuel her fire and keep her focused, and these guys were not delivering. It’s too bad that she’s burned so many bridges with her old bandmates, ’cause this tour could have been a whole different beast had she the security of knowing her band would keep the music going regardless of her antics.
Tardiness, scoldings, lingerie and condoms tossed around like confetti, and a lead singer who you don’t know whether to celebrate or condemn — a Hole concert is nothing if not memorable. Courtney Love knows how to create a stir, and her madness, real or exaggerated, is something fans have come to accept — as well as expect.
To see more photos from this show, and others, go to www.jencray.com.