Not Just the Ticket — #32, L7, February 20, 1992

L7, Whisky

Then-current album: Bricks Are Heavy, but not quite yet (the album was formally released two months later)

Opening act: the Lazy Cowgirls

Back of ticket ad: the California Lottery is, once more, my ticket to fun. And I don’t care.

Once more back to the blue design, I guess they were still working through the old stock here and there.

Meantime, a show that featured the most sedate appearance I ever saw of guitarist Suzi Gardner. But you’d be sedate too if a huge professional camera crane had just fallen on your head.

I’ve mentioned L7 a few times now in these recaps, as well as my initial encounter with their work — living in a city where touring bands were pretty much alway guaranteed to play is handy, but equally handy and arguably more important is being able to catch local bands out doing their job. L7 were of course very much an LA band in the best possible way, and given that we’re all about to be drowned in Runaways movie hype, if not already so, personally I’m all about spending some more time talking about their partial spiritual descendants.

But only partially (as both acts would be the first to say). It’s always a temptation to lump bands or performers together for reasons that don’t hold water, and I prefer to think of bands like the Runaways and L7 and many more besides more as LA bands than anything else, because that’s a reason that DOES hold water. As complex and multilingual as this city is, call it something about the atmosphere and the star industry and so much besides that can shape a band, a performer. L7 were classic outside-looking-in types that thought, “Man, FUCK it. We’ll do our own thing and make it work.” And that’s a common thing that shapes a lot of bands around here too.

I’d just seen L7 last time the previous month at the Rock for Choice show headlined by Fugazi, and in between that show and this one they were undergoing the usual ritual for any band newly on a major label with their first release on said label in the offing — the big lead video. In this case it was for what still remains for a lot of folks THE L7 song, “Pretend We’re Dead,” and great it is, though on that album alone I can think of a slew of others that rival or better it — as with any good band, there can always be a lot to pick from. Eleven years back, for instance, I said this:

But if there’s one big reason why this is still held close to my heart, it’s “Shitlist.” Trent Reznor knew as much when he made it a recurrent theme in the Natural Born Killers soundtrack, playing right when Juliette Lewis was…getting…pissed…OFF. When you’re stomping around, annoyed at the world and realizing that maybe just maybe things would be a lot better if a few people could be gathered in the right place and then forcibly removed from existence, “Shitlist” is the soundtrack. Donita Sparks gargles her words and snarls her hate and you just feel so cleansed as the crunch hits you and hits you again.

And again. But in Gardner’s case, it wasn’t a crunch that hit her but, as mentioned, a crane, as the camera was hovering over the band for a shot or two for the video. The beaning meant a concussion and being banged up, which led to a lot of worried stories in the local press (and elsewhere — while L7 had been mentioned here and there in Melody Maker, this was the year that coverage hit overdrive, and I still remember being bemused at reading news stories about them after they’d already been reported here a couple of weeks beforehand). Shows were postponed but others went forward, and this show at the Whisky was one of them.

Bricks Are Heavy still wasn’t out in full but the promos were starting to circulate, and I remember cranking a four-song promo CD I’d received via KLA for a few friends at my apartment (“Wargasm” and “Everglade” were the two immediate favorites, I think), so pretty much that swathe of us who were hyperfans were primed, ready, you name it, and while they had to have busted out a slew of the new songs at the Rock for Choice benefit, by default this would be the real winner because it was their show through and through, and the first time I’d actually see them headlining. Whatever usual whirlwind happened in the buildup to the show happened and next thing I knew I was at the Whisky again, looking down and over at the stage from the balcony seeing the appearance of…the Lazy Cowgirls?

Who I ended up liking. I wasn’t fully aware of the group’s already somewhat legendary/vaguely notorious history of garage-punk revival hellraising — not to mention being the catalyst for the founding of the Sympathy for the Record Industry label — so I just saw a bunch of guys onstage in leather blasting their way through a set of songs while their lead singer Pat Todd had at it. Todd’s the reason why I still remember their set so well, partially because he was one of those people who took the promise of punk that anyone could do it to heart. It wasn’t because Todd wasn’t a great stage performer — he very much was — but his short, stocky, balding looks were a seeming antithesis to the usual rock star perfections that had been dominating LA for some years, and it’s no surprise to me that they and L7 would be kindred spirits, even if in the simple terms of the booking agent at the venue. A crazy version of Little Richard’s “Lucille” sticks in the mind, which I remember Todd singing while sharing the microphone with a hyperfan in the audience. I don’t think many of my crew were totally up on the experience but hell, I had a good time — think I probably would if I ever saw them again.

And then of course L7. Now I’d seen some packed shows at the Whisky by this point but I think the energy of this one was top-notch, it was practically people on top of other people or hanging off the balcony. I stayed up in the balcony — not sure if I was on my own or if a few of us had congregated there for a better view — and had a pretty good view of the stage as the fearsome foursome rocked, mouthed off (and I mean that very much as praise) and, well, inspired. Somehow 1992 ended up being their moment, the luck of the draw being Butch Vig’s next high level production effort release after the one-two of Nevermind and Gish, and that show was a testament to it, and wouldn’t be the last show that year by any means. It’s a big blur in general, this night, beyond the crowds and the craziness but you could feel an energy that was starting to carry the band to greater heights.

While it was all happening on stage, Donita charging the mike and Dee slamming the drums and Jennifer throwing herself into it as she did…Suzi stood to the side, head down, and patiently played. It was the weirdest contrast and I think you could pretty easily tell that Suzi would much rather have been going nuts with the rest of them, but just couldn’t risk it, had to play it cool by default. We were all plenty happy to see her there and her playing remained top notch, but we were all going “Aw man” to ourselves at the same time. It wasn’t like she had been hurt forever or anything, but still, you know — walking wounded and all!

But that made her being there all that much cooler. L7, still there to rock no matter what. Great goddamn feeling it was, and, at a remove, still is.

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