The Hole Truth

Courtney and company see how low they can go.

Amid the thousands of screaming pubescents and hormonal frat types attending the End’s seventh annual Deck the Hall Ball, there were surely some audience members who appreciated this showstopping pronouncement from Soul Coughing front man M. Doughty: “The greatest sign of sexual dysfunction is crowd surfing.”

Deck The Hall Ball

KeyArena, Wednesday, December 9

Thank you, Soul Coughing, for injecting a little sanity into the proceedings.

I have to admit that I didn’t actually see Soul Coughing—my friend (a fan) told me what Doughty said. A lot of people with admirable musical taste like Soul Coughing, but it’s one of those fussed-over bands that leave me cold. I’ve tried, believe me: I’ve listened to Soul Coughing records, I’ve seenthem play a couple of times, and I still don’t get it. It’s Dave Matthews with art-rock pretensions. So if you’re a big Soul Coughing fan and you missed the show, I’m sorry to let you down here, but you know, I bet they were great. They probably rocked out. They certainly proved themselves capable of quote-worthy between-song banter.

I’ve also done my best to understand Cake’s appeal, but its music doesn’t work for me either. I resent the fact that the band’s label is promoting it as some kind of socially responsible alt-rock band—its new record is advertised in Harper’s and Utne Reader, for chrissakes—but I also find its horn-filled King Missile ripoffs as grating as, say, the faux swing of the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies.

So those are the bands I missed. You see, I knew I was going to have to sit through a full set from Hole, which is really more than enough personal sacrifice for one evening I think you’ll agree. That particular train wreck pretty much exhausted all my patience for boring alt-rock, and, frankly, I don’t get paid enough to sit through soul-crushing stuff like the Daddies. Goodness knows what I would’ve done if it hadn’t been for Garbage and Elliott Smith, who turned in brilliant performances, and Mark Lanegan, who was his usual stolid self (but with that voice and those songwriting skills you can get away with just standing there like a, um, tree).

So, about that Hole set (the band’s first Northwest appearance in five years): It went by without a hitch, which means Courtney threw a mini-tantrum between almost every song (“Get me a drink!”); Courtney showed us her tits; Courtney screamed her lyrics instead of singing them when the crowd got restless (during endless new songs like “Malibu” and “Northern Star,” which she introduced by saying that it was about Seattle); and Courtney berated the audience (“You guys like rock. You guys are stupid. Nobody likes rock anymore.”).

After witnessing Shirley Manson’s effortlessly lethal stage presence, watching Love try to dance to her own band’s music was a painful spectacle indeed. At least she kept her publicized promise to avoid stage diving, despite threatening to wade through the crowd to retrieve a fan’s handmade sign for drummer Patty Shemel’s replacement, Samantha Maloney. So say what you want about Love’s personal hypocrisy and boring rock-star antics, she’s obviously not suffering from sexual dysfunction. Now if she could just figure out how to write a decent song. . . .

After about a third of the audience filed out, a scrim descended in front of Hole’s instruments, and Elliott Smith entered the small stage extension set up for the evening’s acoustic acts (Smith, Ken Stringfellow, and Lanegan).

On the same spot earlier in the evening, Stringfellow had had a hard time keeping the crowd occupied with his solo material (despite bringing out former Velocity Girl singer Sarah Shannon for accompaniment), but Smith, alone with his guitar, seemed to command the crowd’s full attention. Several lighters flickered during Smith’s brief set of songs from last year’s Either/Or and his DreamWorks debut, XO. During the opening notes of his single, “Waltz #2″—which is in rotation on the End—shouts of recognition arose from the floor.

Though in the past Smith’s stage presence hasn’t always been the sunniest, he seemed happy to be invited to the big commercial-alt-rock party. Without saying much, just relying on his bittersweet voice, he cleared the air of Hole’s ridiculous faux controversy. It was worth sitting through Courtney Love’s hour of dreck just to see Smith hold the attention of an arena crowd. His success fostered the brief illusion that talent always gets its just rewards. Then the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies took the stage.