At the end of last year, L7 announced that they were working on a documentary chronicling their rise and eventual break-up, and asked Facebook fans if there was enough support to sustain a full-on anniversary tour. A thousand comments, 2,500 shares and 7,000 likes later, the original members of the vociferous quartet took the stage together for the first time in 18 years, playing a set of scathingly vibrant head-bangers at the Echo in Los Angeles.
L7 weren’t really riot grrrls and they weren’t even exactly grunge, but they were slapped with both labels for the entirety of their career. Nirvana, Hole and Pearl Jam were friends and peers (all participated in events for the band’s activist group Rock for Choice), but L7 were always quirkier, punkier and more L.A.: The band emerged from the artier side of the underground in Silver Lake and Echo Park and was eventually embraced by Hollywood’s metal scene. Last night they proved that despite the very long hiatus, which included pretty much total estrangement from each other, L7 still pack major muscle on stage.
After a brief but enthusiastic intro by the Distillers’ Brody Dalle, the band tore into cuts from its 1990 breakthrough release, Smell the Magic, and its fierce follow-ups, Bricks Are Heavy and Hungry for Stink. They opened with the driving dissonance of “Andre,” then the dark thrash of “Deathwish” and “Everglade.” Though fast and shrieky is what L7 do best, their songs are equally potent as mid-tempo sing-alongs. Cuts like “Monster,” “Diet Pill” and “One More Thing” showcased their ability to hold back on the clamor and let their often sardonic lyrics and hooky choruses shine. Frontwoman Donita Sparks, guitarist Suzi Gardner and bassist Jennifer Finch traded off vocals almost equally, and each held their own on the band’s most famous numbers, backed by the steady lashings of drummer Demetra Plakas.
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As with Babes in Toyland, another recently reunited Nineties act, L7 always tried to distance themselves from “girl rock” codification in their heyday: They simply played hard and wrote outsider anthems that were both androgynous and audacious. Last night, they closed their show with two such tracks: “Shit List,” which ended the first set, and “Pretend We’re Dead,” which was held for the encore.
“You guys wanna know how old I am?” Finch had asked a little earlier in the evening. “I’m still on Tinder.” She then took a selfie to post on her Internet dating profiles. Like the night as a whole, the gesture reminded the crowd – which was split equally between men and woman – that the band has been around the block but remains young at heart. The nostalgia was nice, but the thrill came from seeing this group of old friends crack jokes and play as hard as ever.