There aren’t many better ways to start a new year than a release from L7, and it’s ever better when it’s a recording of a crazy 1990 live show in Detroit. Detroit begins with the band apologizing for arriving late, co-lead vocalist and guitarist Donita Sparks making fun of a drunk guy in the crowd, and then having issues with guitarist / co-lead vocalist Suzi Gardner‘s microphone before unleashing a sonic assault with “Fast and Frightening.” Thankfully, Gardner’s microphone works just fine for “(Right on) Thru” as she belts out the vocals like a professional boxer.
“Scrap” chugs along like a monster truck. “Broomstick” is a forgotten metal classic. “Packin’ a Rod” seems to fly by at 100mph (and ends with more great banter of Sparks taking down the rude drunk). The inclusion of one of their earliest hits, “Cat-O’-Nine-Tails” is a welcome one, and the first time I’ve heard it live. It’s crazier (and better) than I’d hoped it would be. “Deathwish” is like a saw slicing through a log while the lumber mill is being swarmed by killer bees. It ends with more fun banter like Sparks promising she’ll learn how to play guitar before their next tour.
“Till the Wheels Fall Off” has drummer Dee Plakas going bonkers through the whole track and probably terrifying most of the men in the crowd. Gardner’s vocals on “Shove” are, as always, more like a hockey check than a push. They end on “Bloodstains” before coming back for a fiery encore. They initially offer to take requests, but that quickly devolves into drunken chaos in the crowd and Sparks dealing with tuner problems. Bassist Jennifer Finch briefly teases playing some Black Sabbath before they announce “This is really going to suck, but we’re gonna do it anyway,” and launch into “Shitlist.” This was when “Shitlist” hadn’t reached its levels of popularity that it has today. This is the first time I’ve heard reverb effects on Sparks’ vocals (as she dedicates the song to her broken tuner), and they push her voice to the back wall of the venue.
Detroit is a welcome edition to L7‘s catalogue, and a nice time capsule of raw 1990’s rock. By the way, they haven’t lost a thing. They still hit as hard almost thirty years later.
Keep your mind open.
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It was a triumphant return to Fort Wayne after nearly 30 years for them. The show was big, bright, and full of love. It was in the middle of the election season and just what we all needed at the time.
#9 – Earthlessat the Empty Bottle in Chicago December 2nd
Earthless is easily one of the best live acts out there right now, and this was my first time seeing them in a small venue. I don’t know how the Empty Bottle was still standing by the time they were done because it was among the loudest and heaviest sets I’ve seen there.
“I got a movie and a concert,” my wife said after seeing a screening of Escape from New York and then John Carpenter, his son, his godson, and the rest of his band play a fantastic retrospective of his film score music. It was also in a huge gothic structure, so that made it all the better.
I’d wanted to see them for a couple years, and seeing them an hour’s drive away with my best friend in a venue not much bigger than the bottom floor of my house was one of my favorite memories of 2016. They were even kind enough to let me interview in their tour van. They crushed it, leaving most of the crowd dumbstruck.
Another band I’d waited years, even decades, to see was L7 and their sold-out reunion tour show in Chicago was one of the best performances I’d seen from any band in years. They hadn’t lost a thing and showed pretenders how it’s done.
Good grief! If these shows were so good, who’s in the top five? Come back tomorrow and see!
Keep your mind open.
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I’m a big fan of L7, so you’d think I’d already owned their second album, Smell the Magic, for years. It turns out I didn’t, but I thought I did because I own so many of the songs on it in other forms. It’s an early 1990’s classic, and needs to be in your collection if you’re any fan of any kind of rock.
Opener “Shove” (which I already owned on the Tank Girl soundtrack) is a fist-pumping anthem as Suzi Gardner (guitar, vocals) rants about bill collectors, the mailman, the neighbors, smog, and the political landscape of 1991. Dee Plakas’ (drums) beginning to “Fast and Frightening” (which I have on at least one other recording somewhere) are like a Gatling gun and Donita Sparks’ (guitar, vocals) vocals are as rabid as the song’s title. It also has one of the most punk rock lyrics of all time, “Got so much clit she don’t need no balls.” Play this if you ever need to start a mosh pit.
“(Right on) Thru” has some of the best guitar work from Gardner and Sparks, and I love how Plakas’ drums keep you guessing if the song’s going to take off or stop short. “Deathwish” (which I had as a live cut on another record) is a personal favorite. Jennifer Finch (bass, vocals) puts down one of her heaviest riffs that drives the song like a Sherman tank across a battlefield. The song isn’t particularly fast, but it grinds along with unrelenting power.
“’Till the Wheels Fall Off” is appropriately titled, because it tears through at breakneck speed. “Broomstick” is a Blondie tune if Blondie decided to be a punk band instead of a post-punk band. “Packin’ a Rod” is more angry punk. Hell, the first line is “All fucked up and I’m mad as hell, violate your daughter and your son as well.” Sparks is carrying a gun just for you, so you might want to steer clear of her. I love the crunchy, yet shredding guitar solo on “Just Like Me.”
The record closes with “American Society,” a cover of the song by the great underground band Eddie and the Subtitles that’s all about being sick of television, the rat race, the homogenization of radio airwaves, and the lure of materialism and quick riches. It was a perfect song to start the 1990’s, because everyone was sick of this stuff…and we still are.
Smell the Magic still shreds and is still relevant. Give it a whiff.
Keep your mind open.
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The closest I came to seeing L7 in their first heyday was when they were on the 1994 when they were on the Lollapalooza tour. We got to what was then known as Deer Creek Music Center (and is now know as Klipsch Music Center) in Noblesville, Indian a bit late and we could hear L7 wrapping up their set with “Pretend We’re Dead” from the parking lot.
I wouldn’t have the chance to see them again for another 22 years. They played a sold out show at Chicago’s Metro (one of my top favorite venues in the city) on August 06, 2016, and it was definitely worth the wait.
Punk trio Radkeyopened the show with a damn fine (and prompt – 8pm sharp) set that sounded like a combination of the Damned and the Misfits. The crowd was appreciative and they got everyone geared up for more heavy rock.
L7 came out to a packed house of punks, Gen X’ers, MILFs, DILFs, gays, straights, and at least one woman in her 70’s I saw heading up to the balcony to watch the show. They opened with “Deathwish,” and immediately proved they haven’t lost a thing since that Lollapalooza gig.
Donita Sparks belted out the “Deathwish” lyrics and everyone in the packed, hot crowd was in the band’s hands within seconds. Suzi Gardner then bellowed “Andres” and Jennifer Finch knocked out “Everglade.” They came out swinging with three hard rockers and everyone was on their heels with joy and dizziness.
“Monster” (with Dee Plakas‘ much-beloved cowbell in full effect) and “Scrap” had everyone grinning. “Fuel My Fire” had everyone jumping, and it’s easy to forget how heavy “One More Thing,” “I Need,” and “Slide” are until you hear them live.
There’s no mistaking “Crackpot Baby” for anything but a fist to the face, especially with Sparks singing so loud that I’m sure people in the SmartBar downstairs could hear her. Two cuts from The Beauty Process: Triple Platinum followed – “Must Have More” and the always-excellent “Drama.”
The rest of the crowd and I were happy to chant and pump our fists to “Shove,” and “Freak Magnet” was a nice lead-in to my favorite surprise of the night – Finch (rocking age 50 and a Misfits-logo bass) and crew performing her song “Shirley” (a great tune off Hungry for Stink about NHRA drag racing champ Shirley “Cha-Cha” Muldowney).
They closed with, of course, “Shitlist,” which had everyone completely batshit by this point.
The encore was “American Society” (another great rare cut), “Pretend We’re Dead,” and the (finally!) mosh pit-inducing “Fast and Frightening” (which, if you didn’t know, has perhaps the most rock lyric of all time).
It was a great show with a great crowd. The Metro blasted Dee-Lite’s “Groove Is in the Heart” after the encore and nearly everyone was dancing on top of crushed plastic cups and spilled beer (myself included).
Thanks, L7, for reuniting and giving us these shows. We needed them, and I hope it won’t take me another two decades to see you again.
Keep your mind open.
[Thanks to Robert Fagan for getting me a press pass to the show, the lady working the press table at the Metro for being so helpful, and to Hannah – my +1 for the night. I’m glad to have met you and that you had a good time.]
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