L7 at Irving Plaza (photo by Kate Hoos)
1992 was a big year for rock music—and for era defining moments and albums. It was the year Rage Against The Machine’s debut album came out. It was the year Dirty was released. It was the year Nirvana knocked the King of Pop off the charts with “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” And it was the year that L7’s third and best known album, Bricks Are Heavy, arrived in the world. (It was also the year Right Said Fred’s “I’m Too Sexy” hit the airwaves in case you were wondering.)
30 years have come and gone since the release of the album, years that saw the alt rock/grunge movement hit incredible highs by the mid 90s and then start to decline as other genres began to dominate the airwaves as the decade wore on and turned to the new millennium. Many bands of the era broke up or took long hiatuses as music tastes changed and the members lives took different turns, L7 among them, going on indefinite hiatus around 2001.
I’ve been listening to them since around late 1994/early 1995 (I was a shade too young when Bricks first came out) when I first saw them perform “Gas Chamber” as the fake band Camel Lips in the John Waters’ classic Serial Mom (apparently due to contract/legal reasons they had to appear under a fake name) and immediately after begged my mom to take me to the record store to buy a copy of Hungry For Stink. They were a crucial part of my formative years and rock education, but I sadly never got to see them the first time around and figured they’d remain that way forever.
So you can imagine my delight when they first re-united at the end of 2014 and subsequently put out their poignant and often times hilarious documentary film L7: Pretend We’re Dead in 2016 (read my review for DOC NYC). I was finally able to see the band perform for the very first time the night of the New York premiere at a tiny club on the lower east side and it was a for sure come to Jesus moment for me, even with them playing a truncated six song set. (Thanks belatedly to Jennifer Finch, too, for looking out for me when the crowd knocked me down at the edge of the stage in their zeal.)
I got to see them two more times before Covid struck (see my pics from 2019) but as the reality of the pandemic sunk in and the world continued to crumble, I wasn’t sure what would happen next or if I’d ever see them again. A light appeared at the end of the tunnel earlier this year though when they announced on the anniversary of the initial release of Bricks Are Heavy—4/14/1992—that they would be playing an anniversary tour to celebrate. I was over the moon and immediately marked my calendar for the NYC dates, eyeing Irving Plaza as the show I wanted to attend most. I even planned an international trip with the show factored in so I’d ensure I was back in time; there was no way I was missing this “National Holiday” event. (Which was also my response when my boss asked me to work an extra shift that evening, “it’s a National Holiday, sorry can’t.”)
On the night of the show, I was more than a little hyped up and was bouncing around like the teenage girl I was so many years ago when I first discovered their hard hitting riffs that made me feel at home. While I’m now a (usually somewhat cranky) middle aged woman with salt and pepper hair, nothing could quell the excitement and youthful glee I felt upon arriving at the venue and walking up to the merch stand to buy a limited edition signed poster. From there heading up to the ballroom area, I was giddy and ready to fucking ROCK as was the assembled crowd which turned out to be a mix of “women of a certain age” aka middle aged (and older) 80s and 90s era rockers like me and quite a few Gen Z aged fans up front.
Local band Omat opened the evening, playing what was to date their biggest show yet. I’m not sure of the ages of the members but they do appear to be on the rather young side so it was very cool to see the obvious direct line from the 90s grunge era and bands like L7 to their music. They put on a great set of indie grunge revival songs and won the crowd over easily. They don’t appear to have any recorded music out yet but I’ll be sure to keep my eyes and ears peeled for when they do release their first tracks.
L7 didn’t keep fans waiting long and in their truly cheeky fashion, came out to entrance music that was a mix of songs popular in 1992. From there they kicked into the album with lead track, “Wargasm,” a song that still shreds and at the time it was released was a condemnation of the first Gulf War that unfortunately remains relevant in the context of America and the world today. They played the full album in order which, as a fan, I really enjoy more. Some artists I’ve seen do anniversary tours mix things up or spread the songs out but that tends to take me out of things. I really want to hear the body of work as a whole because I’ve always been an “album person” who listens to things front to back, so I very much appreciated that they approached things that way.
L7 at Irving Plaza
The fans reacted viscerally to hearing the entire album, of course going extra hard for the biggies like “Pretend We’re Dead,” “Everglade,” and “Shitlist.” After the eleven song run of the album was done, the classic skeleton hand logo banner suddenly dropped in dramatic fashion to reveal the later era circle logo, the crowd screamed, and the band kicked into a second eleven song set made up of a mix of songs from their other albums. The opening trio from the second set, “Andres,” “Fuel My Fire” and “Shove” got the most fan reaction and were among my highlights too as was “Fast And Frightening,” a track solidly among my favorite songs of all time. I was also pleasantly surprised to hear “Non Existent Patricia,” as I did not expect to hear anything from 1997’s The Beauty Process; that song was always a favorite of mine from their catalog. They closed the night out by urging the audience to vote and playing a cover of David Bowie’s “Suffragette City” to honor the anniversary of women being granted voting rights in the United States in 1920.
Snarky and self deprecating as always, they had a playful back and forth with the crowd, clearly trying to make the night special for the devoted fans who came out to see them. This is something I’ve noticed in the past with their shows too and appreciate it; you can tell they really care about their fans and their experience, this isn’t some phoning it in cash grab for the band (something I’ve sadly felt at other reunion and anniversary events), they truly give a shit. Guitarist/vocalist Donita Sparks had plenty of spitfire quips, telling everyone that fellow guitarist Suzi Gardner liked to be sexually harassed before saying “we shouldn’t joke like that” and saying they were waiting for their guitar techs to sue them. She later asked who had seen them before, quickly following up with the question “Who has seen our sex tapes?” before informing everyone they could purchase them secretly underneath the merch table, but adding “you’re not missing much.” Bassist Jennifer Finch told the crowd they’d be on the band’s shitlist if they left early, earning cheers and chuckles. And as subtle mistakes do tend to happen in the live setting, Sparks said late in the set “with us you get bonus notes, bonus beats. We don’t play to computers because we’re fucking dinosaurs” again met with hearty chuckles.
It was a very special evening for the fans and one hell of a pedal to the metal rock show. I would have been totally down to hear a third set if they had wanted to play one and include their epic cover of Dead Kennedy’s “Let’s Lynch The Landlord,” but alas, it was not to be. But no matter though because I’m still riding the high of that night and I think you all know I’m already here pre-gaming, waiting anxiously for the Hungry For Stink anniversary tour in 2024, naturally.
Scroll down for fan shot videos, setlist and pics of the show (photos by Kate Hoos)
Setlist: Wargasm, Scrap, Pretend We’re Dead, Diet Pill, Everglade, Slide, One More Thing, Mr. Integrity, Monster, Shit List, This Ain’t Pleasure || Andres, Fuel My Fire, Shove, Stadium West, Non Existent Patricia, Fighting The Crave, War With You, Drama, American Society (Eddie and The Subtitles cover), Fast & Frightening, Suffragette City (David Bowie Cover)