Last Tuesday, 16th June 2015, the L7 reunion tour rolled into Camden’s Electric Ballroom for the classic line-up’s first London show in around 18 years. Donita Sparks, Suzi Gardner, Jennifer Finch and Dee Plakas back together on stage again since their last album together, Hungry For Stink.
Back in their original heyday, L7 were a band often associated with courting controversy, but, being based mainly on just two incidents, both perpetrated by Sparks (throwing a used tampon into the crowd at the Reading festival and performing live on Channel 4’s The Word with her trousers and underpants pulled down), this tag always seemed lazy and unfair, with the band being about so much more than simple gimmicks. L7 were never afraid to air their political views and were outspoken supporters of the pro-choice movement during the 90s, but again, they never allowed themselves to fall into the trap of becoming predictably outraged and boring, as so many of their peers did. No, despite the serious subject matter of some songs, watching and listening to L7 was always about one overriding thing; having fun. Which is what all good rock n roll should be about.
Tonight, the band take the stage against a backdrop of their iconic “skeleton hands” logo and break straight into Deathwish with dash and energy, which the crowd respond to in kind. The set flies by in a whir, during which we are treated to a set of back catalogue greatest hits, mainly taken from Bricks Are Heavy, but with a few honourable mentions from Smell the Magic and Hungry For Stink thrown in. Gardner, Sparks and Finch share the vocal duties amongst tracks such as Monster, Andre, Everglade, Slide, Mr. Integrity and Right On Through. The set even includes an airing of One more Thing, which Sparks admits “We never used to play back in the day.” It’s very welcome here and shows a more reflective side to the band, particularly Finch, whose emotional vocal is very different to the tracks she normally leads on, which tend to be a lot of L7’s more aggressive material.
The years don’t seem to have taken any toll on the band themselves, Plakas tireless behind her drums, Gardner a picture of effortless cool with her ubiquitous shades, Sparks all focused intensity and Finch a madwoman, rolling around on her back, kicking her legs up and offering her bass out into the crowd. There are wind-ups to the people up on the balcony, Sparks offering them out and admonishments to the LA crowd for not selling out as quick as this London show, which sold out faster than any other show on this tour. Amongst the jumping, pogoing, rolling around, joking and general lunacy that takes over the Electric Ballroom, one can’t help but notice something important; L7 sound AMAZING. AMAZING.
In my twenty-odd years of going to gigs, I am genuinely hard pushed to think of a better sounding show. As one audience member is overheard to say, “they sound as good as a record!” She was not wrong and this polished, professional performance makes a mockery of the old suggestions that L7 were a “basic” band and claims made in the past by the band themselves that the reason they play the style they do is because they were not technically proficient enough to play thrash. Well, it is testament to L7 that whilst many of those bands enjoy “guitar hero” status, a lot of them sound like a right old racket live when compared to this.
The main set comes to a close with a furious rendition of Shitlist, Sparks’ voice never faltering, despite the physicality of her performance. As the band depart the stage, the crowd wait in a fervour and, after a short time, the lights come back up, there is a declaration from Gardner that this is “definitely my favourite crowd ever”, and we’re off again with a cover of Eddie and the Hotrods’ American Society, cheekily followed by 90s mega-hit, Pretend We’re Dead. Proceedings are finally brought to a close with the bludgeoning menace of Fast and Frightening, which sends the band – and subsequently the crowd – into overdrive.
And, too soon, it’s over. L7 have smashed it; no band has any right to combine that much energy with such a good sound. The audience start to filter out and you can tell from the excited murmur that drifts up into the Camden night that people know they’ve seen something special. For this reason, let’s hope that L7 stay with us for a bit longer. And I’ll admit my twenty year old crush on Jennifer Finch is definitely back a bit.