Looking at the crowd tonight, mostly comprised of thirty-somethings who were there at the dawn of grunge, it is clear that Courtney Love has lost none of here appeal during her years in drug-addled wilderness. The queue stretches far into the Birmingham night and there is an air of anticipation, not least because whether you love her or hate her, you have to admit that Courtney Love is that most rare of beasts – a real rock star, prone to temper tantrums, bad nights and total mayhem.
However, before we get to see Hole we have Little Fish who come on like early Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs but without that band’s winning material. Indeed, for all the energy being flaunted onstage the band resolutely fail to ignite the crowd and they suffer from a lack of memorable tunes, which is a shame because the drummer is half decent and the singer clearly has the stage presence of a rock and roll star even if not the material to convincingly back it up.
When Hole arrive however, it’s very much the situation in reverse. In truth the band up on stage aren’t Hole at all, rather a group of hired hands who do their best to look as bored and detached from proceedings as possible. In fairness, Courtney is still the focus and as she twirls onto the stage to the strains of the band’s intro tape, it’s clear she’s lost none of the magic that made her so magnetic an attraction in the past, but if she wishes the return of Hole to be anything other than a flash-in-the-pan then she needs to get together a better band or better still the original band who tempered her presence with genuine fire and ability. Alas, on this occasion she’s flanked by a guitarist who looks strung out on God-knows what, a bassist who seems to be forever edging off the stage, a keyboardist/guitarist who’s barely audible in the turgid mix and a be-dreadlocked drummer who is competent if uninspiring.
Opening with a brief snippet of ‘pretty on the inside’ is a bit of tease, particularly as it then leads into a cover of the Rolling Stones ‘sympathy for the Devil’. ‘Skinny little b****’ is one of the few highlights off the mediocre new album and it sees some semblance of life animate the band, but it’s all about the old tunes and over the evening some real classics are aired including ‘Violet’ (sounding incendiary), ‘doll parts’, ‘asking for it’ and ‘celebrity skin’. A cover of NIN’s ‘closer’ intermixed with Patti Smith’s ‘rock and roll n*****’ is also a welcome diversion, particularly as it deviates so massively from the original.
Sadly, despite the majority of the set being an exciting run through of good tunes, the pace is lost when Hole air tracks from the new album and the sound utterly failed to do justice to the heavier tracks leaving a lasting impression of disappointment as opposed to having witnessed the unmissable. Ultimately Courtney Love still has it, but she needs to find a band worthy of her before returning to these shores once more.