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The Globe and Mail

Courtney Love lived through it and grew up

  • Hole
  • At the Sound Academy
  • In Toronto on Saturday

"I wrote this song the day I got out of rehab," Courtney Love told the crowd at the Sound Academy as she strapped on her acoustic guitar for the show's final encore. Laughing, she joked of her recovery, "Third time's the charm." Then she and guitarist Micko Larkin launched into Never Go Hungry, from the current Hole album, Nobody's Daughter.

It wasn't a particularly inspired performance, just two acoustic guitars strumming as Love bawled out the lyrics. But the ferocious honesty and determination that went into the song came through loud and clear, particularly when Love got to the chorus. "I don't care what I have to pretend," she sang, "I will never go, never go hungry again."

I couldn't have summed up the unabashed commercialism of this show any better.

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Where once Hole was all about anger, outrage and a sort of feminism, now it's all about playing the hits and pleasing the crowd. It isn't just that Love, who has long since swapped the thrift-store glam of her early days for chic black dresses, is the only original member in the current lineup. In truth, the other musicians on stage were mere back-up players, anonymously competent and - apart from Larkin - largely unacknowledged by Love during the show.

Nor was the show itself especially provocative, unless you were expecting something longer than a 55-minute set, plus encores. At one point, she assured the crowd that she would no longer be doffing her top, as she has famously done in the past. "I turned 46 yesterday," she said. "No getting the tits out."

Things started off with a brisk, truncated version of Pretty on the Inside, which was abandoned after a verse or so for a slightly longer dip into the Rolling Stones' Sympathy for the Devil. Love did, at least, make the song her own by changing Mick Jagger's "I'm in need of some restraint" to "I'm in need of no restraints."

But Miss World, the first Hole song played in whole, seemed distressingly generic. Apart from Love's braying, Dylanesque vocal, it was as anonymous as any cover-band version. Not that Hole would get much work in that department, as their rendering of the Nine Inch Nails tune Closer lacked any of the original's rhythmic snap. (Although in fairness, it would have been hard to manage a segue into Love's Judy Garland number - The Man That Got Away, from A Star Is Born - had the band hewed closer to the original NIN groove.)

The largely female audience, whose members ranged from rabid fans to mere folks who liked the hits, seemed to appreciate the bland professionalism. Although Love's attempts to get a singalong going during Pacific Coast Highway yielded little, the crowd sang along lustily during Violet and Celebrity Skin, and there was even some half-hearted moshing during Asking for It. But the attention Love commanded was hardly rapt.

Even so, she was clearly happy with what she got. At one point, someone yelled a request, and Love told the crowd, "I only see one bra on the stage. I need to see 10 bras, and then I do requests." Then, as she sang Someone Else's Bed, it seemed to rain brassieres.

"That's more than Nashville," she said, clearly impressed. To show her appreciation, she had Larkin take off his T-shirt and wear a slinky black number for Celebrity Skin. "That was very brave of you, Larkin," she told him afterward. It was also the closest Hole had come to "edgy" since hitting the stage.

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But hey - Courtney Love is a grown-up now. And grown-ups don't take chances. They just do what they have to do to make a living.

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