House of Blues
July 15, 2016
"Fast and Frightening" is the name of a great song by L7, but "Fast and Amazing" might be a better description of the band's show at House of Blues last Friday. Anyone in the audience expecting a simple reunion show of a '90s act got a lot more than they bargained for, as the gut-punch rock and roll that L7 played far exceeded that.
The band is forever associated with the '90s grunge movement, but watching them play 25 years later, I remembered just how great they are live and how they defy being categorized so simply. As L7 ripped though a set peppered with high points with none of those "I wish they'd get to the next good song" moments that lots of bands seem to fall into, it was a good reminder that their greatest asset was always the strength of their songwriting. Unlike lots of bands from the same era, L7 not only had a distinct and inimitable sound, but also mastered the art of crafting sharp and catchy songs that don't go on for a minute too long.
It felt like I could see 1994 if I squinted a little through the crowd, but that was because L7's energy was infectious and a reminder of live-music audiences' passion during that era, not because the band's sound is dated. The crowd responded as L7 tore through a catalogue of great tunes starting with "Deathwish" and "Andres," before hitting even higher points with "Shove," "Shitlist," and "American Society." There wasn't a dud in the set, further evidence that L7 always was a great live act.
In the early days before the band became hugely famous, L7 spent a fair amount of time touring smaller punk clubs in Texas, and a lot of people who were around back then have good stories to tell about meeting or seeing the band. At one point during Friday's show, singer/guitarist Donita Sparks mentioned The Axiom, Houston's legendary punk-rock club, which took me back to the first time I ever saw L7 play there, and how I realized then that they were an exceptional band.
Watching Sparks and fellow cofounder Suzi Gardner play guitar Friday night was an eye-opener. Their percussive styles seemed to be locked together, producing a glorious, unified wall of sound. Bass player Jennifer Finch bounced about the stage while propelling each song forward, and drummer Dee Plakas proved that she should be a lot more famous as a rock drummer with every fill. L7 proved that great rock and roll doesn't always fit neatly in a box, and it doesn't need a bunch of unnecessary filler to be truly great — while it's clear that every member of the band has mastered her instrument, they wisely avoided things like excessive solos and the other junk that can rob the vitality out of great riff-driven rock. I hope that their set reignited passions in local musicians who've been inactive awhile, and inspired others to take up an instrument, because the way L7 plays live is the way rock music is meant to be done, and we could all benefit from that lesson.
The sound at House of Blues was notable. Loud enough to be heard well throughout the venue, but not so deafening that musical nuances were turned into mush. The sound engineers responsible deserve credit, because the mix was great, and helped L7 created a massive sound. At one point about mid-set, Sparks commented that she thought something sounded off or out of tune, but if that was the case, I didn't hear it.
Anyone not around for the rock music renaissance of the '90s who wants to know what it was like owes it to themselves to get to an L7 show as quickly as possible. They were always one of the bands that delivered some of the best music of that time period, far exceeding the efforts of many of their male contemporaries, and they still do. Make no mistake, though: L7 is worth seeing for far better reasons than nostalgia, because their songs are timeless and still sound relevant. Most importantly, they still rock, and are one of the best live bands playing today. They proved that again on Friday at House of Blues.
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