On Monday, November 2nd I found out my life-long favorite band, L7, was playing a show on a reunion tour with the original line-up of Donita Sparks, Jennifer Finch, Dee Plakas and Suzi Gardner. Broke as I am, I got on Facebook and managed to quickly find a friend of a friend who happened to have an extra ticket.
Yay for manifestation!
Now when I say my favorite band, what I really mean is “the band who was most important to me in my teenage years.” In the early 1990’s I was a teenager in a small town in NE PA and the only new music I ever heard came through MTV. The radio basically played Van Morrison on a loop and there was no underground music scene anywhere nearby. I had already been listening to Nirvana and other grunge bands I could find through MTV, but these were women and they seemed to be breaking all the rules about being women. As an isolated teen trying to figure out my sexuality and gender presentation, I was in need of representation.
So, when I saw the video for “Pretend We’re Dead,” I was immediately transfixed and went right out to buy a cassette tape of Bricks are Heavy.
When I got home, I listened to the whole album, reading along with the lyrics in the liner notes. I was blown away by a photo of the band inside (which I cannot seem to find). They were un-apologetically not acting like girls; rowdy, sticking their tongues out, giving the metal sign, and one had hairy armpits. HAIRY ARMPITS!!!! This was a rule I did not realize I was allowed to break before, having shaved since 10, but at this point I knew I had a choice and made an immediate plan to stop shaving after I graduated high school. (My pits are still happily hairy btw)
But more than the image, I was sold on their music. It was heavy. Much heavier than Hole or other female rock bands I knew. The tone was one of anger and the lyrics matched. It was permission for me to let my own anger through. As soon as I could, I bought Smell the Magic and L7. None of my friends got into them, maybe because L7 were too heavy or too female, so it was really the first band I sought out entirely of my own accord as opposed to a trend. But it mattered not to me; I would continue listening to them into adulthood.
L7 is an interesting fuse of punk with hard rock and some metal. LA-based, so really NOT grunge, but lumped in with grunge because no one knew where to put them. Their lyrics were straight-forward whereas most grunge bands had poetic/abstract (or seemingly non-sequitur) lyrics and an emphasis on noise; you can listen to the equally awesome Babes in Toyland for that. Today, people also like to lump them with riot grrrl, but they preceded that movement and their sound is way different.
They were also politically active feminists. Their music might not offer nuanced discussions of feminism, but it does offer outlets for frustrations based on misogyny, as did their actions. In 1991, L7 organized the first of many “Rock for Choice” concerts which used the benefit concert format to raise awareness and funds for abortion access in the US. This was a time when abortion clinics were being bombed and doctors were being killed. When abortion access was heavily under attack, a mass movement like this was greatly needed.
In 1994, I rode to NY to a Lollapalooza show in which they were playing, along with The Beastie Boys, Smashing Pumpkins, Parliament and many, many more. But L7 is who I really came to see, they were my heroes. Scrappy little 17 yr. old me lunged into the pit during their set, spending as much time as I could moshing until I started head-walking, which allowed the shortness of me to see the stage and get closer to it. During one round of this, some douchebag dude felt me up so I immediately reacted as I felt one should at an L7 show; I punched him in the face (weeeeell, I missed his face and actually just hit him on top of his head, but it was still really hard!).
At some point after hitting the douche, I looked up at the stage and saw Donita Sparks looking RIGHT AT ME. She gave me a “nod” and then time seemed to stand still until I was dragged out by security. Now, she may have been simply looking in my general direction and she may have been merely nodding her head to the music, but it didn’t matter. The fantasy to me was that Sparks saw what happened, related to me, and approved of my bad-ass punching of the douche who groped me. That stayed with me forever.
So, 21 years later I get a ticket to go see L7 again. This time it was at the small Crystal Ballroom venue in Portland and I was now a 37 y/o with neck and back problems that made a point to avoid the small pit in front and grumbled about younger folks on drugs. Sparks didn’t look at me, but I do not know how many times I yelled “Love you Donita!” In fact, if I was wearing a cute bra, I very well might have tossed it on stage I was so star struck!
They did not seem burnt out, they did not look like they were tolerating being there; they were having a hell of a time and putting on a great show, because that is what they do. This was a band playing a reunion tour not because they were desperate for money or want to squeeze the last bit of their fame out, but because there was an honest-to-goddess fan demand for it. Plus, they wound up with a bunch of extra money from a Kickstarter for their new documentary Pretend We’re Dead and this was the perfect project to put it towards.
They played everything the fans wanted to hear, they bantered on stage, made fun of people, even made some mistakes. At one point Sparks seemed to get frustrated with her own flubs until Jennifer Finch said, “Donita, if they wanted to hear you play perfect, they would just listen to the album at home.” To which the crowd cheered. And they worked that crowd as pros do.
They put on a damn good show. I went for the nostalgia, but it became a great thing to witness these ladies fully in their middle age power, commanding a room and having a blast doing so. And if anyone tries to say women lose sex appeal as they age, just take a look at these ladies!
L7’s website does not currently list any new tour dates, but based on Facebook activity, it looks like there is a huge demand for them to swing a tour through South America, so stay tuned!