September 27, 2017
All photos by Raymond Ahner.
Mirror, mirror on the wall…who is the squarest punk band of them all? Well L7 of course…that is if the mirror is shattered and jagged and musically as dangerous in 2017 as it was in back in 1990.
Though not really fitting, the punch you in the face quartet from Los Angeles made up of Donita Sparks (vox, guitars), Jennifer Finch (bass, vox), Suzi Gardner (guitars, vox), and Dee Plakas (drums) were lumped into the ‘grunge’ genre of artists that ruled the airwaves in the early 90s.
They may have shared the stage with and rode the same wave of popularity as contemporaries Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Rage Against the Machine, but this band of SoCal female misfits never attained the success of the MTV ‘grunge’ darlings. They shared more in common with the freaks on the punk end of the spectrum, more closely aligning with the anything goes, dirty edge of Black Flag, the Melvins, and Mudhoney.
So it was no surprise that when L7 were booked to blaze the stage at Slim’s that word spread quickly and the show sold out. What ensued was a true San Francisco throwback of a club show. Old school punk rockers came from all around the bay to get a fresh dose of the act that took the baton from the Runaways and broke down the door of the boys club of hard rock.
Performing in front of the packed house at Slim’s, L7 rocked every bit as hard as they did back in the day when they played legendary SF clubs such as the I-Beam and the Kennel Club, back before grunge was a musical category or rrriot girls were a thing.
As soon as they took the stage they detonated the atmosphere by reaching back and socking the crowd in the mouth with ‘Deathwish’ (Smell The Magic -1990). The hair and the flannels were flying as Donita Sparks, with a snarl that would make Elvis and Billy Idol proud, put a choke hold on the Slim’s crowd. With a ton of bad girl attitude and stacks of guitar volume the 11th street hall was transformed into a staggering mass of bodies shaking to the monster rhythms.
From there on out ripping was the order of the evening. Ripping, straight forward guitar-driven grooves. Ripped jeans, ripped t-shirts…ripped misconceptions that this foursome may have mellowed over the years. Onstage they sounded and looked great. It was as if time had stood still for the L7 girls, and the crowd reveled in the rock.
Unlike most bands, L7 are constantly trading off vocals .As they swerved directly into ‘Andres’ (lead track from Hungry for Stink – 1994), Suzi Gardner took to the mic and owned it. Watching Gardner’s growl and ‘fuck you’ stage presence it becomes perfectly clear where Courtney Love, who co-opted her own slice of grunge commercial success, got her hard-edged, vocal rasp.
Pushing forward and continuing their dominant performance, it was bassist Jennifer Finch’s turn to fucking rock the mic as L7 turned the volume past 13 with ‘Everglade’ (Bricks Are Heavy – 1992), their ode to rednecks. The crowd was now a sweaty mess and L7 was unrelenting, keeping their collective middle finger extended as Gardner again took the lead on ‘Monster’ (Bricks Are Heavy) with Sparks flying around the stage with her signature Flying V guitar.
If folks had slept on the band over the past years of limited activity, they were shaken to attention as the set was just hitting its stride. Still to come were the most recognizable songs of the evening…the ones that brought to mind the ghosts of punk rock past that have influenced the darkest, most pissed off, elements of L7. “Get out of my way or I might shove” (‘Shove’ – Smell The Magic)…had Gardner conjuring Wendy O. Williams’ kick to the head delivery and aura.
Now that the crowd was whipped into an utter frenzy, the girls ripped the lid off the joint when they started into ‘Pretend We’re Dead’ (Bricks Are Heavy). This may well have been the L7 fucked up answer to the Suicidal Tendencies fucked up ‘I Saw Your Mommy’ with loads of confident angst to spare.
L7 are a simple band, much in the straightforward awesome way that the Ramones were simple. No technical musical virtuosity, just simply exceptional in that they do what they do best, which is rock hard, fast, and loud. On this night they did not disappoint, to the contrary they re-affirmed that they are the pre-eminent squares of the punk rock universe.
Leading off the evening was Oakland’s Year Of The Fist (YOTF), a fearsome foursome that play catchy, jumpy punk rock that would make the most cynical East Bay punks bob their heads and wave a fist in the air. Led by the guitars and vocals of Squeaky and Katie Cash, YOTF got the evening off and running, coaxing the early arriving crowd up to the front of the stage.
Particular standouts were the juggernaut grind of ‘Catching Up’ and the break neck ‘She Lost It,’ both from their ‘Dirty Laundry’ record (2016). YOTF play often throughout the bay, and are now starting to stretch out farther and wider, starting with an October jaunt to Japan. They return home in November at The Knockout on Mission. Go check it out as it is sure to be a drunken sweaty good time.
Here’s a slideshow with more photos of Year of the Fist by Raymond Ahner:
For more information about L7, check out their Facebook page.
Find out more about Year of the Fist here.