5th row, center aisle, 1994, Macauley Theater, Louisville, KY. Not long after Kurt Cobain’s death, I sat mesmerized as Tori Amos opened her concert first with a breathless, edge-of-your-seat rendition of “American Pie” and then sang a slow, agonizing ballad of “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” I looked at my friend, Terri, and whispered (cuz Tori at that moment, commanded whispers, not yells – yells would come later), “is that what I think it is?” It was so different from the loud, discordant original that it took me a moment (OK, more than a moment) to figure out what song she was singing. She would also sing some of my early favorites of hers – Little Earthquakes, Precious Things – but the way she wrapped her mouth and her body around her piano and those first two songs is burned into my mind.
This was a time when radio still wouldn’t play two women back-to-back. (I know; I worked in radio at the time which is how I scored the awesome seats.) Tori Amos was/is maybe my generation’s Janis Joplin. Free, freaky at times, insanely talented and impossible to take your eyes off of. An original – even (or especially) – when she’s covering other’s songs. Do yourself a favor and listen to some of her covers.
A few months later. Not long after, I saw Courtney Love and her band Hole perform live at Phoenix Hill Tavern in Louisville, in support of their album Live Through This. Her husband had just committed suicide and she had to go on tour. I don’t have the talent to write about that night and what I saw. I witnessed bravery, despair, anger and power. I don’t care how fucked up she is. A lot of rock stars are and I think we are entirely too hard on her for behaving like a lot of her peers do. I remember her baby doll dress. I remember she brought her daughter on stage at some point wearing large headphones to protect her tiny ears. That album still gives me chills. And that concert was a true rock concert – daring, insane, loud, bad acoustics and one lead singer who begged, pleaded and stole my attention.