L7 bring the ’90s memories rushing back at First Ave


L7 Photo courtesy of Girlie Action

Gen X is, was, and probably always will be fucked.

A minority generation first overwhelmingly dominated, both in numbers and in cultural cachet, by its Boomer predecessors, now the aging grumps outnumbered by sassy millennials, Gen X had exactly one moment in the sun. It was moment so potent it almost felt like we really meant the not-give-a-fucks that come so easily to those younger than us. (We didn’t.) We seized that moment with gusto, burned its Cross Colors, wrapped it in flannel, and sent it crowd surfing across 2,000-person venues, so desperate to trap that moment and never let go that honestly, it didn’t really matter all that much if the music was good or mediocre or somewhere in between.

In a lot of ways, L7 in particular embodies that grungy moment in time—one foot firmly planted in the suburban nihilism of ’80s SoCal punk, the other jammed up the ass of Sunset Boulevard hair-metal riffage, both arms wrapped firmly around Joan Jett. They were a band of women who didn’t make a big deal out of being a “girl band” because not making a big deal out of it was basically making a big deal out of it. Not doing shtick in the ’90s was, after all, its own form of shtick.

So when L7 took First Ave’s stage last night to “Pussy Control,” I wasn’t sure what to expect, but what the packed Mainroom and I got now was exactly what L7 was to us then. They chugged out those methodical riffs. They belted (when they could). Some folks thought they rocked. Some folks went nuts on the dance floor. Some folks nodded.

There were obstacles. Illness was making its way through the band, especially detrimental to guitarist Suzi Gardner, who mentioned a few times that her voice was a mess. But her bandmates’ vocals also seemed uncharacteristically lost and low in the overall mix. Despite this, Gardner, Donita Sparks, Jennifer Finch, and Dee Plakas plowed through 17 of their most chuggy grunge-era songs. (No “Bite the Wax Tadpole” from their earlier, punker days.) The two digressions during the set—last year’s Pres 45 takedown “Dispatch From Mar-A-Lago” and this year’s “I Came Back to Bitch”—were well received but also reminded us that this was a band that went 18 years without releasing a new song.

After a set-closing “Shitlist” and a quick dip into the dressing room, the band returned for an efficient three-song encore, sandwiching what will remain for eternity their best-known song, “Pretend We’re Dead,” between a cover of Agent Orange’s “Bloodstains” and Smell the Magic’s “Fast and Frightening,” as close to a manifesto as L7 has ever had. They’re still pretty riffy. They’re still pretty pissed off. And they’re still pretty damn good at what they do. L7 delivered the goods, they touched the spots people were looking to have touched. But all the heat was from a moment in the sun two decades gone.

The crowd: Like the line at Sunday Night Dance Party ’96 but with mortgages.

Notes on the openers: Death Valley Girls are basically all the jigsaw puzzle pieces of garage revivalism without being garage revivalism, at least the nakedly obvious kind.

Notebook dump: What is that strange reverse-selfie device Jennifer Finch is pointing at the crowd? I bet it doesn’t even make phone calls.

Overheard in the crowd: “Can I have five bucks for a T-shirt? Come on, I’ll pay you back after I cash your mom's check.”

Fuel My Fire
One More Thing
Off the Wagon
Crackpot Baby
Must Have More
I Came Back to Bitch
Freak Magnet
Dispatch From Mar-a-Lago

Bloodstains (Agent Orange cover) 
Pretend We're Dead
Fast and Frightening