Of course, with E's voice set out front, it's impossible to ignore the subject matter. But rather than wallowing in misery, E and his drummer Butch (bassist Adam joined the band after the recording) strive for a light touch. "Hospital Food," with its mordant refrain about "delicious hospital food," hints at the randomness of life and death while electric piano, baritone saxophone and subterranean drums weave and curl around E's musings.

When E emotes directly, as on "Dead of Winter," the music is right there with him. Bowed bass and acoustic guitars lay bare the loneliness, emptiness and fear you feel when a loved one dies. If the entire album were this raw it would be unlistenable; the pain is that sincere. It's a sad record, but far from depressing.

E has made it through the trying times and sees a way out. On the final track, "P.S. You Rock My World," the L.A.-based singer has an epiphany at a funeral and delivers the last line of the record on an up note: "And maybe it's time to live."

-- David Simutis

Live -- Omaha to Osaka
Man's Ruin

Considering L7 outlived grunge and out-grrred riot grrrl, perhaps it's time to consider the band on its own terms, rather than as part of those movements. Mixed up in the early '90s grunge whirlwind, L7's sheer rock monstrosity seemed too heavy, too metal and too plodding. Sure, the 1992 debut Bricks Are Heavy scored alternative hits with "Pretend We're Dead" and "Shitlist," but unlike some former Sub Pop labelmates, L7 couldn't quite break into the pop mainstream.

Instead, the group was lumped into the then-burgeoning neofeminist riot grrrl garage-punk movement, and the L.A. foursome was expected to share the artistic minimalism and politically charged gestures of groups like Bikini Kill and Bratmobile. But L7 was too polished, too individualistic and too much fun. The band didn't write manifestoes -- it made shitlists.

L7's focus has always been the riff. Like Motsrhead, AC/DC and the Runaways, Suzi Gardner's and Donita Sparks's guitars chug, while the behemoth rhythm section of Jennifer Finch and Dee Plakas forms a punk rock juggernaut. With Gail Greenwood replacing Finch in 1996, this live album captures performances from Omaha, Nebraska, and Osaka, Japan. The disc's 16 tracks rely on the newer, and heavier, side of L7's oeuvre, sounding as murky and powerful as Nirvana's ode to the detuned guitar, "Bleach."

The John Marshall High School Marching Band opens the Omaha set by blurting out a perky medley of L7 favorites before the ladies storm the stage, growling about their urge for trouble with the driving anthem "Bad Things." "Must Have More" drops the pace to a silken slur with the guitars tuned down to something like L; the verse subsists on Gardner's guitar girth, while vocalist/guitarist Sparks's repetitive, zombie-vocal hook breaks the mudfest.

The five songs from the Osaka show are even wilder, with enthusiastic crowd scream- and sing-alongs. Gardner's and Sparks's guitars are heavier, and Plakas continues to stomp out her mechanical 4/4 beat throughout. The crowd microphones are cranked up to capture the group's pugilistic thud reverberating from the stage, so heavier songs like "Fast and Frightening" sound massive and distant.

"How many of you here in Omaha like to ... 'party'?" mocks Sparks between guitar lashings. She obliterates the macho rock posturing and seemingly obligatory audience-pandering chatter of most hard rock live albums without a hint of indie rock's sociopolitical diatribe. Tough and revolutionary, sure, but not riot grrrls.

-- Dave Clifford

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