"This place," observes L7 guitarist-singer Donita Sparks, scanning the Manhattan club on arrival, "doesnt exactly say rock." The interior of Bleeker Streets Life disco looks more like something out of Miami Vice, with chrome-ish columns and sleek bars at every turn. She pronounces rock quickly, and without the italics, as if its a word shes gnawed on and spat out billions of times. The clubs on-duty model greets her with a secretarial fake-nice "And who are you with?" to which Sparks politely and curtly replies, "El Se-ven," and strolls through to catch up with her bandmates, drummer Dee Plakas, new-recruit bassist Janis Tanaka and co-guitarist-singer Suzi Gardner, whos busily taping up posters and T-shirts at the bands merchandise booth.
L7 have pulled their van into New York on the skirts of Hurricane Floyd, after bad weather cut into the turnout for shows in Philadelphia and Waterbury, Connecticut. The gals can only look forward, but the fact that tonights show is part of the CMJ music conference and promises loads of conventioneers with laminated badges and presidential-candidate-like tight schedules has them a little leery.
Come showtime, L7 hits the stage, pummeling every hidden corner of the icy building with dexterous, full-throttle and, yes, dangerous hard rock. It could almost be Rajis 1988, except with a bigger stage and $6 Amstel Lights. Gardner wears a funny leather hat, and the set kicks off with "Andres," a hit from 1994s Hungry for Stink, which leads to "I Need," a song from 97s The Beauty Process: Triple Platinum, which juxtaposes droll Sparks lines like "Come on and validate me" with Gardners backing "ayayayayayayayay"s. Its classic L7 sarcastic, immediate, extreme not to mention a criminally overlooked shoulda-hit (more on that later).
At one point, Sparks adopts a German dominatrix accent and deadpans to the audience, "We play da musik dat makes you dance, ahnd youre naht dahncing, ahnd its a bummah." Then they lunge into "Lackey," a new Sparks-penned tune that seemingly parodies a covetous never-quite rock star demanding the spoils of fame too late. Its one of L7s funniest and most self-deprecating moments ("Light my smokes, fill my glass/Pucker up and kiss my big white ass") in a lineage of songs that fold cynicism and real hurt into blisteringly hard rock, a scheme few bands have successfully pulled off (even the band L7 are often aligned with, the Ramones).
"Are the badges a little weighty this year?" chides Sparks, though most of the non-CMJ crowd is made up of girls and guys the same age, or even younger, as Donita, Suzi and Dee were when they started L7 in 1985. Then drummer Plakas elevates the new "War With You," Gardners simmering midtempo sneer about the remains of some good lovin gone bad, into far more hazardous territory. Watching this arm-flailing gymnast pound her kit disproves entire theories taught us by scientists and athletes about mass and power. While Sparks urges the crowd to be more responsive, and Gardner doles out eye contact like its endangered goods, and probationary bassist Tanaka, if she wants to keep the job, knows she damn well better act like shes playing Madison Square Garden, Dee Plakas just fucking rocks. Even the badges in the house break a sweat.
Okay, so maybe its not Rajis 1988, when an L7 show was an explosion of controlled thunder, like the first time you experienced Iggy or Black Sabbath or Motorhead or whoever going to extremes to make you believe in life n things. Thats not a feeling you can count on with your favorite bands these days, so, in late 99, you want to give L7 a big tip, or maybe send them a fruit-of-the-month basket, for all the flat-out joy theyve brought you.
In case you were wondering, yes indeed, L7 still rock like our lives depend on it.
The Lighter Side of L7
Gathering for a pre-show sit-down in New York, all four members of L7 are so darn cute and nice, theyre naturals for a sitcom on Fox. (Fox executive: "I see it as The Monkees meet Josie and the Pussycats, with menstrual jokes.") They laugh at each others quips, drink each others coffee and know just when to interrupt each other. Plakas is right on cue with a "budumpump" following Sparks punch lines. The previous nights show in Waterbury was either "sucky" (Sparks) or "like work" (Plakas), but the gals know they have to get down to a workmans attitude to promote the hell out of their new album, Slap-Happy, on their own label. Fired from their old employer, Slash/Warner Bros., after the release of The Beauty Process, the band decided to "rip themselves off" and put out their next record themselves. They copped the name of a song on their debut EP (which was lifted from a Weekly World News headline) and got into business under the moniker Wax Tadpole Records. They made a deal with Bongload Records for distribution, which lets that company, as Sparks puts it, "deal with the day-to-day stuff, so we get to use their staff and their office." "And their fax machine," adds Plakas.