“Any pregnant women in the house?” L7’s Donita Sparks inquired, surveying the crowd. Midway through band’s blistering set at New York’s Irving Plaza, the charismatic vocalist and guitarist was concerned. First, they have a reputation for playing loud and didn’t want to be responsible for inducing labor, and secondly, the sold-out show (the first of two appearances in New York), was a rowdy one.
Encouraging any moms-to-be to head over to the VIP section, Sparks clearly commanded the evening. She was enthusiastic to be back together with her band after a 14-year hiatus. But there was also a sense that while this is a stop on their “reunion” tour, the quartet (which consists of original members Sparks, co-vocalists and guitarist Suzi Gardner, bassist Jennifer Finch and drummer Demetra Plakas) is not about basking in nostalgia. Judging from their show, L7 is a band that was ready pick up from where they left off years ago.
The New York set list featured tracks from 1992’s Bricks are Heavy and 1994’s Hungry for Stink. Gardner and Finch shared lead vocal duties, opening with hit song “Andres.” That was a smart move—the crowd was a healthy mix of middle-aged couples who were around to witness L7 during their pre-90’s grunge era heyday, and young, primarily female fans who were clearly stoked to see a legendary rock band, and shouting along to “Andres” got them all pumped. The audience responded with emotionally unhinged screams and flailing arms when the band launched into my personal favorite, “Fuel my Fire.” I first heard that song in in the mid-90’s and it perfectly represented how I felt when I got harassed at metal and punk shows. To me, Spark’s lyrics encapsulated the “fuck you” attitude that served as a great motivation to stay in the scene despite the bullshit I faced.
L7 is the third major all-female ‘90s band to reunite and tour this year (Sleater-Kinney and Babes in Toyland preceding them) and, like Babes in Toyland, they have always been miscategorized as a Riot Grrrl band. L7’s show made it very clear that flexing their musical muscles was the priority—their talent, not their gender, drew the crowd.
Closing with “Pretend We’re Dead,” and “Fast and Frightening” the looks of wonderment on the faces of barely-adult women who leaned over the stage barriers demonstrated that there was a strong an emotional connection to the four women who graced the stage, but there was something about L7 that can’t be dismissed as simply a “women in rock” show. These musicians have nothing to prove, and because of that there was a freedom in their performance that made it not just a great evening of music, but an important message: regardless of who you are, if you can deliver the goods, they will come.
Top photo by Laina Dawes.