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Best and Worst of SXSW 2010: Courtney Love and Patrick Stump [video]


20 MORE PHOTOS: Hole at SXSW 2010

It may have been the only time I've ever gotten totally choked up over a display of unmitigated adequacy. Newsflash: HOLE didn't suck. And, um, it's kind of embarassing to say this, but I think I still love Courtney. So much that against my better judgement, I went to see her twice in one day.

When we saw Courtney on the SXSW schedule, we assumed that the prospect of the first Hole shows in a decade (in name only, but if Axl can do it...) would bring the week's biggest trainwreck. (Luckily for her, no so lucky for those of us who had to witness it, that honor went to her Saturday-night opening act: ex-Fall Out Boy singer PATRICK STUMP.) So three songs into Hole's set at Stubbs on Saturday afternoon, when she hadn't spoken a word -- and the three songs had been a decent version of "Sympathy for the Devil," a great version of "Miss World," and their pretty good new single "Skinny Little Bitch" -- I suddenly found myself remembering how good the old Hole had been back in '94-'95 right after Live Through This came out.

Thought about it again after she played "Violet," which was not really completely ruined by a Courtney tangent in which she name-dropped Perez Hilton. Eventually, yeah, there were untranscribable monologues involving Bret Michaels -- "Just like her Twitter feed!", noted our favorite Village Voice scribe -- but at the end, it felt shocking: a really solid, drama-free, goosebumby Hole show. If she could somehow keep that up for several months at a time (and if the new Hole album turns out as B-plus as the new stuff sounded), you could almost see her becoming a female Mike Ness, carrying the torch for grown-up fuck-ups for another decade or so. 

Of course, it had to be a fluke, right? So when we wandered by the Dirty Dog around 10 that night, and found it not already packed to the gills, we grabbed a spot near the stage and suffered through her fellow Crush Management comrades, which included a solo turn by the guy from Gym Class Heroes; a new white-rap-rock band who sound like Adam Lambert covering Weezer, except for when they sound like your neighborhood Rage Against the Machine cover band; and Foxy Shazam, whose set suggested a treatment for some kind of '80s off-broadway musical in which Squiggy from Laverne & Shirley meets Sonny Bono at Freddy Mercury's funeral. 

CL still had Perez on the brain, and after a few songs she started dismantling the set list to preserve her blown-out voice -- she said she didn't want to be hoarse for Hole's set at Hilton's bash the next night. But before that happened, she opened with her "Sympathy"/"Skinny Little Bitch" medley, tacking on about a minute of a song that most of the crowd probably didn't recognize: the title track from Hole's debut Pretty on the Inside. (Her new guitarist, who looks like a younger, Irish-er Slash, had to show her the chords.) Reluctantly, she played a Live Through This track that hadn't shown up at Stubb's -- "Doll Parts" -- and happily played the one song anyone remembers from Celebrity Skin, "Malibu." Here, see: 





It was 2 am-sloppy, but definitely not "the worst show I've ever played," as she said on her way off the stage. Courtney, we've seen some of the worst shows you've ever played. The worst shows you ever played we paid actual money to see. This, Ms. Love, was not even the worst show of the night. That honor went to the opener: the boy who fell out of Fall Out Boy. 

Flashback to about 10 pm. The Dirty Dog, a club about the size of Harpers Ferry, is half-full. PATRICK STUMP is due on next, to play his first proper solo show ever, debuting songs that no one's ever heard. The roadies set up a drum kit, two keyboards, a mic stand, and a rack of guitars and basses. Great, you think, he's got a band. Then a short, sweaty kid walks out and sits behind the drums. It slowly dawns that despite the fact that this kid is about 50 pounds lighter and is not hiding his bald spot with a hat, it's Stump. He is practically unrecognizable. And he's decided to play all the instruments himself. 

He whacks out a drum beat and loops it; then he loops a keyboard lick and walks over to loop a bassline. Except that nothing's quite matching up -- the drums are off, the bass sounds terrible, and when he picks up the guitar it crackles harshly. Six months ago he was playing sold-out arenas; now, in a sticky club in the heart of Texas, a new reality is setting in. Patrick Stump can't do everything himself. 

After struggling through that first laborious exercise, things go from meltdown to slightly better -- with just the guitar and a laptop backing track, he nervously introduces a song and sings it, struggling to hear himself in the monitors. It sounds OK until he somehow manages to unplug his own guitar in the middle of the song. 

And then things just get weird. "I feel a little like a Charlie Kauffman script, because I'm karaoke-ing songs that haven't been recorded yet," he says, leaving room for a laugh that never comes. "And now I feel like Zach Galifianakis, because I'm talking over piano." Silence. He starts to play the Bobby Womack chestnut "If You Think You're Lonely Now," but after less than a verse he announced he would play just one more song, then powered through the Womack and wove it into a new track of his own. And then he left, looking pale and shook and glad it was over. 

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