I don’t know if it’s a particularly Glaswegian phenomenon, but spend some time on Argyll or Buchanan Street and you’ll become familiar with the odd breed of, usually older, women who’ll attach themselves to street performers, adding their own unique brand of interpretive dance to the musical mix. Obviously, alcohol and mental health issues play their part, but sometimes they seem as much a part of the city’s culture as The Old Firm or Stanley Baxter.
For the first few songs of Courtney Love‘s appearance at the O2 Academy, that was the image that came to mind. Slowed by “tequila and cheese”, Love’s deliberate, ponderous movement gave every impression of someone having to concentrate very hard on basic human function. It was if she was held up with string, her puppet master intent on showing to the world that, indeed, her ‘issues’ have take a toll on both mind and body. Still only 49, Love gives off the air of someone 20 years her senior.
The guitar hanging round her neck is now a mere prop. Half-heartedly flicking at the strings, if it’s plugged in at all, the guy on the mixing desk has it ramped all the way up to ‘1’. Her microphone technique is woeful: lines drift in and out of view and it’s hard to tell if she’s misremembered the words or has just forgotten the basics tenets of live performance.
And yet as she begins to warm up, you’re reminded that Courtney remains a hugely charismatic figure. Still funny, self-deprecating and still in possession of a raw, primal voice that others have tried to make a (lesser) career from. She also has access to a back catalogue that trumps many of her contemporaries, although most of the highs still stem from 1994’s Live Through This. A rare outing for the Riot-Grrrl baiting ‘Olympia’ is welcome, Love laughing at the roar of approval as guitarist Miko Larkin teases the first chord.
She may sing the praises of her new musical muse but the jury is still out on that front. Of two new songs, ‘Wedding Dress’ is by-the-numbers dirge; ‘You Know My Name’ is better, but then every Courtney project since Celebrity Skin has had one half-decent track. Larkin and Ginger Wildheart provide solid back-up, although the rhythm section appear to have walked in from the street. The Courtney live experience has been diminished since she lost the troublemaker, girl-gang vibes of halcyon Hole days.
More concise than in some previous visits (60-odd minutes and a three song encore), this was not, thankfully, the train-wreck many expect from a Courtney Love show but neither was it particularly vital. With many tickets clearly still unsold, and few paying punters under the age of 21 or so, it may not just be the years that are catching up with Courtney. Frankly, it’s been too long since she delivered artistically and creatively.