Courtney Love @ O2 Academy, Bristol, 19/05/2014

Courtney LoveYeats said, “There is no more poetic subject than the decay of a beautiful woman.Courtney Love sang, “Your milk is a dick.” And also seemed to mean it. A career spent illustrating dead poets’ observations has never been Love’s intention. It's so much more fun to illustrate her own; pop punk’s defiant, tragic plaything of the Gods since 1986. Though she isn't so much defiant, as inconsistent. There's no sublime manifesto waiting in the wings, just a cancelled autobiography and a swathe of very public washing. Still, she demands to be known as an artist, and to that end has a new song and thus a tour of Britain.

They open with new song, "Wedding Day", which punches through the first six rows and is classic Love; full of distorted snarl, and sexual references; I’m too much for you to handle, diary entries masquerading as scurf poetry; a William Burroughs for those who don’t know he existed. Straight up after is "Miss World", which she still sings with the slant necessary to avoid making it a boast. The highlight is undeniably her cover of "Gold Dust Woman" which she sings with a mean relish for all those cracked lesser hearts.

When she smiles she looks like a sweet toothless child, but more often she cackles at the madness that so many people she thinks are boring have chosen to elect her as their fabled leader - and what a court to attend. In her hour, Love plays the Queen, the petulant inheritor, the unworthy confidante and the nihilist jester. Not through any talent for acting, just by saying whatever she feels like. It’s a difficult court to exist in. She has never learned to handle young women screaming, “I love you” with the grace she handles young men screaming they want to be her fret board. Possibly she has forgotten how hard it is to be a young woman.

She doesn’t 'perform' as such, just moves between poses intentional and accidental within a six foot circumference of her mic. Her three side arms, one of whom has idled in from the pages of Blood Meridian for the evening, resemble men engaged in a constant act of house repair; endlessly circling and reinforcing their red queen lest she falls apart in front of them. What’s been said about her voice elsewhere, is true. It’s a rare gravelly husk for a rare life; never beautiful but probably honest.

In between songs she handles the sycophants just cruelly enough to keep them begging and after only an hour the band finish up, and leave. Courtney has not thanked or named her musicians. The audience yodel as excitedly as they are obligated to do for the encore they know they will get. Or will they? Our expectation has made us too passive. The drummer storms on. Berates us. Completes a rousing sentence containing the word “fuck” too many times for it to be worth repeating. Apparently Courtney Love is backstage. The Courtney Love. The one who sings; “Your milk is so sick, your milk has a dick.” That Courtney Love. Did we know how lucky we are to have her? It’s not as if Patti Smith’s in town. How dare we not shred our larynxes to get her to play? Fuckin’ Courtney Love! If only we’d known! Persuaded to froth, we trot through some hoops to summon a woman who scorns people who trot through hoops. Reassured of her value (or at least, that she possesses a drummer who is able to create that illusion), she sashays out in a red dress, smiling and tosses roses to her darlings. Of course she was going to come back. How could she not? They finish up for real, two songs later, an hour and ten minutes after they started. A girl in a Nirvana t-shirt is weeping on the stairs, pointing and jabbering at Courtney, the author and owner of so many sorrows. It must be hard being Courtney Love. But she so rarely seems to try anything else.

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