Courtney Love, O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire

"Courtney Love remains a compelling performer, still driven by her mixed-up muse to make an impression"

Halfway through tonight’s show, Courtney Love challenges the audience to shout ‘Fuck you!’ louder than she can. The crowd does its best (for a Monday night), but no one can match her throaty, visceral howl, its power barely diminished by passing years or nicotine.

So it’s been over two decades since Hole’s debut album, and whilst Love’s unpredictable behaviour doesn’t quite generate the frisson of excitement it once did (she puffs on an e-cig these days, and advises us not to smoke), the singer remains a compelling performer, still driven by her messy, mixed-up muse to make an impression.

Courtney slinks across the stage, playing with that famous blonde mop

The guitar-playing may be a token effort these days, but she pours no little heart and soul into her performance, lacing the words with venom, slinking across the stage, playing with that famous blonde mop.

Beginning proceedings wearing a kimono outfit (“it’s my Chinese bride look”), she is soon down to her lacey, gothic finery, and trading banter with the adoring fans getting sweaty down the front – some of whom she clearly knows via social media. Indeed, such is her appetite for direct engagement, we are entertained throughout with anecdotes, saucy one-liners, brutal honesty (“I’m feeling a little vulnerable tonight”), and at one point, a convincing scouse accent.

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The band – including Brit-rock veteran Ginger Wildheart, on guitar and full-sleeve tattoos – competently rattles through the peaks of a modest back catalogue. Grunge anthems Softer, Softest and Miss World still punch their weight, and although crowd fave Malibu has a ragged start, it ends in rousing fashion, Love crouched on the stage monitors, screeching the final line over and over (it’s a cracking tune, not least for powerfully emoting the loss of her deceased husband).

Newbies Wedding Day and You Know My Name also get a showing, the latter a decent slice of power-pop punk.

Despite her constant flirtation with the Hollywood mainstream – awards ceremonies, fashion shows, plastic surgery – Courtney Love endures as a feminist icon for some, who see a punk rock soul still, in her own way, agitating for change. One thing is certain, on stage is where she makes sense. “Are you having an amusing evening?” she asks. Very much so, Courtney, please continue.

Courtney Love tours the UK throughout the rest of May

Photo © Thanira Rates