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Live Review: Hole at the Music Box

April 23, 2010 |  2:35 pm

When Courtney Love first announced that she was resuscitating her volatile, beloved band Hole, the news arrived with two very different possibilities as to how it might play out.

The immediate question was whether Love was in creative shape for this. For younger listeners who missed her first turn as the frost-eyed fulfillment of Riot Grrl rage, Love had become something of a Miss Havisham of the blogosphere. Known for creatively punctuated missives against all the celebrities who crossed her (Lily Allen, John Mayer and Billy Corgan among them), Love saw her music become eclipsed by her role as a one-woman gossip maelstrom for much of the late '00s.

At the revived Hole's L.A. debut at the Music Box on Thursday, Love cleared that bar easily. Her feral wail — always seemingly on the edge between an earth-detonating argument and delirious makeup sex — has settled into a sly, been-there pugnacity. Songs from Hole's forthcoming “Nobody's Daughter” split a nifty difference between the bottled fury of “Live Through This” and the sunnier melodicism of Love's later work.

Hole The bigger issue going into these shows, though, was what this reunion meant for the idea of Hole. Like Liz Phair, Love has been embroiled in a career-long battle with her biggest fans — the young women who decried and articulated the thousand patronizing cuts of the male imagination through songs like “Doll Parts.” Her songs, and her vision of female potential, were incredibly influential, but she hasn't been that woman in years.

So when Love, looking as healthy and tack-sharp as ever, pulled back the Fonda curtain to reveal this new, all-male incarnation of Hole with her as the sole original member, it felt like a warning shot to anyone hoping to validate their late-teen angst. If there was any question as to how she sees the band, Hole is about Love and her songs, not you and your feminist anxiety.

All well within her rights indeed. But those had better be some fantastic new songs.

Surprisingly, some were. “Samantha” had a teen-noir quality that allowed its bleak tale of emotional consumption to go down easy. Love's voice has lost its hurricane gale, but not always to a bad effect — here her constant rush for breath made the song feel resigned in a smirking, goodbye-to-all-that way. “Skinny Little Bitch” is most akin to the early Hole favorites, and it felt like a rebuttal to the beach-dream underground rock of today's twentysomethings. The tune hit like a tossed-off, self-deprecating joke at a party but hinted at a deep well of darkness underneath.

Hole's most cherished singles suffered the most in this new setting. Love struggled to re-create the throat-shred of “Violet” and constantly fell a step behind its gnarled chorus. “Doll Parts,” by contrast, felt exaggerated in its snarl — the original earned its strength from its loneliness, not its fangs.

Love abruptly ended the set after around 45 minutes (with two very quick encores), and though the leave-them-wanting strategy is a great one in live music, fans expecting a deep conversation with Hole's catalog had reason to feel cut off a bit early.

But what she had offered before Hole's departure was satisfying, especially the jangle-pop of “Pacific Coast Highway” and “Malibu.” She noted the irony in the latter song with a telling aside: “I keep writing songs about Malibu, and I don't know why,” Love said. “None of them want me there.”

Spurned by the rich and beautiful crowd she aspires to join, at the expense of the disaffected, adoring old crowd she has pointedly left behind? Sounds like difficult, honest emotional terrain to mine. Hole should really write a song about it.

-- August Brown

Photos: Courtney Love. Credit: Brian Vander Brug / Los Angeles Times