Sat., Aug. 28, 2015
Seeing the band in the ’90s, when its feminist, slyly humorous take on metallic punk was diluted by a clone-filled grunge scene.
Quote of The Night:
Donita Sparks: “I’m bringing back the flat-ass look.”
When the women of L7 jokingly strutted onto stage to the beats of disco before playing a single note, shaking their collective tail feather to the gleeful whoops of the crowd,¬ it was obvious the Los Angeles quartet was spiritually if not geographically home.
You’d have sworn the band – like biker-grrrl extras from a Russ Meyer Film –¬ had been teleported fully intact from 1992. With Donita Sparks, the scrappy outlaw wailing on her flying-V guitar, gold incisor flashing every time she stepped to the mic, and Suzi Gardner, still rocking the signature thrift store sunglasses, a stationary counterpoint, little seems to have changed from the grunge era. The band cherry picked its way through six albums in a set that leaned heavily on the Butch Vig-produced Bricks Are Heavy, L7’s biggest commercial and critical success.
Several songs in, Sparks left the stage and returned moments later, the wind-blown mane swapped for a wet look. “There’s goes my $400 hairdo,” she quipped. The running commentary throughout the night was the unseasonably warm weather (“Guess we brought some of that Los Angeles heat with us,” Gardner cracked). But perhaps the evening’s overriding theme was mock solicitations: “Is there anyone under 21 in the audience?” asked Sparks. Bassist Jennifer Finch quickly added: “You could get arrested for that, Donita.”
Riding the grunge wave to modest success, L7 were ultimately a casualty of changing musical tastes, but cracks started to appear as soon as the mid ‘90s. Finch reportedly left in the middle of recording 1997’s The Beauty Process: Triple Platinum, a weird somewhat half-baked album. By the early 2000s they were done. Fincher joined a band called The Shocker while Sparks formed Donita Sparks and the Stellar Moments which was basically L7 without Gardner and Finch.
Whatever internal rancor there once was, none of it showed in tonight’s performance, although they did flub the intro to “Shitlist.” “Hey, that shit happens,” Sparks said. “We don’t play to [backing] tapes.” The show was a nifty reminder how L7 is a band in the truest sense, with Sparks and Gardener trading off on solos and vocals – which isn’t obvious from the albums. As drummer Dee Plakas pounded out a 2/4 beat that went off like a cannon, L7 sequed into “One More Thing,” the rare tune with Finch solo on vocals. “That one’s harder than it looks,” said the magenta-haired bassist.
An encore didn’t seem likely after powering through 16 prime cuts, but this audience wasn’t going anywhere till the ladies were back, kicking off with “Pretend That We’re Dead,” which made an already amped up crowd lose their shit. During that tune, in a meta-commentary to her lyrics “…Turn the tables with our unity/They’re neither moral nor majority…” Sparks sneakily added: “They’re assholes!” Like a feminist gangsta, Finch flashed the “L” and “7” sign with her hands, which a small sea of hands flashed right back. The band name is an homage to a ’60s slang for establishment types, or squares. The way the band goofed around up there – Sparks leaping off the drum riser and attempting the splits or straddling the monitor; Finch giving Gardner a shoulder rub in the final moments of a guitar-squall fade-out – seemed less like a reunion than a couple friends jamming in the garage and just having a blast.
How appropriate then that these metallic-punk heroines got support from San Francisco’s own Frightwig. Coming up with the rest of the city’s punks in the early ’80s, the (mostly) female band morph from punka-boogie to psychedelic garage pop to arty spoken-word. The members swapped instruments just as easily, as when drummer Cecilia Lynch-Kuhn got up from her drum set to sing “I’ll Talk To You And Smile,” ostensibly about a child molester whose victim later becomes a prostitute. Gesticulating wildly as she groan-sang “I know what you did ….” the bizarrest moment was the outro where Lynch-Kuhn signed the lyrics as if to a hearing-impaired audience. Whatever the symbolism, some could relate. Later on, according to L7’s Finch – a one-time SF resident with former roommate Courtney Love – “[Frightwig] got me through some really hard times.”