Hole, Shepherd's Bush Empire, London

When all you need is Love
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Such is Courtney Love's reputation for mayhem, the packed house at Shepherd's Bush Empire weren't even sure that she would turn up for tonight's gig. Her band, Hole, might not have played in the UK for over 10 years, but expectations for the evening ahead were running pretty low.

Rock star wife. Rock star widow. Drug addict. Actress. Tabloid train wreck. It seems that Love has lived a dozen lives, but, tonight, she's back to what made her famous in the first place, being frontwoman of the seminal grunge band and Nineties favourite, Hole. Some would argue that Hole don't really exist anymore, considering there are no original members besides Love, but let's face it, the focus was never on the others anyway. Hole is, and has always been, the Courtney Love show.

And so she appears, unexpectedly bang on time, a sort of trashy, gothic dolly. Her cascading pre-Raphaelite curls are held down by a sparkly headband, a purple lace prom dress clings to her wiry frame.

She leads the band straight into "Pretty on the Inside" and a cover of the Rolling Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil", before they showcase some tracks from the forthcoming album, Nobody's Daughter, a record plagued by problems that has taken about five years in total to make. New songs like "Skinny Little Bitch" and "Samantha" prove that fans should be more excited than wary at the prospect of the first Hole album since 1998's Celebrity Skin.

There are some emotional moments during the evening, including a full-on ballad, "Letter to God" and the yearning "Pacific Coast Highway" but, happily, a number of classics are played, which see the whole room erupt. The familiar sound of "Miss World", "Malibu" and "Celebrity Skin" all result in crowd-surfing and drinks being sent flying. An encore of "Doll Parts" and "Northern Star" also delights the crowd, which judging by the wide age range, seems to be made up of new teenage fans as well as those who can remember when Courtney and Kurt met.

As the frontwoman, Love is assured and ballsy. Her voice, hardened by years of chain-smoking, is perfectly raspy for the demands of the music, but she's now 45 years old and out of practice with touring. She has a teleprompter on stage and she admits to being "rusty on the guitar". It's clear the gig physically takes its toll on her. After the main set, she looks worn and weary, her make-up smeared in sweat over her face, her fingers bleeding. But it also shows just how dedicated she is to giving the evening her all. And while Love may have sobered up, she hasn't lost the propensity to shock. She laughs in between songs that "we're a real band. We've all had loads of sex and drugs together".

Love her or hate her, tonight she rose above the endless controversies. Some people will always know her as a deranged mess, but to legions of other fans, she's rock's first lady and more than that she proves that she might still be a relevant force for today.