By David Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Hailed as not only an influence on the ’90s riot grrrl movement but as a pioneering grunge group before the term even existed, Los Angeles quartet L7 has earned it’s place in history as the alternative-rock equivalent of ’70s proto-punk band the Runaways.
Formed by principle songwriters/guitarists Donita Sparks and Suzi Gardner in 1985, the band cycled through a few members before finding the classic era rhythm section of bassist Jennifer Finch and drummer Dee Plakas. By the time they had recorded the band’s self-titled debut for Epitaph Records in 1988, L7 was already hinting at the sneering mix of metal and punk that would become their trademark, especially on catchy anthems like “Bite the Wax Tadpole” and “Let’s Rock Tonight.”
Two years later, the band released it’s second album and sole effort for Seattle’s Sub Pop imprint, Smell the Magic. Their growing gift for melodic bludgeoning and refined take on the Stooges’ howling approach to elemental rock (not to mention wise-ass sense of humor) proved L7 were kindred spirits to like-minded Northwestern trash rockers like Mudhoney. Despite the geographical difference, the feminist punks were accepted as talented purveyors of grunge (and some would argue progenitors of the style).
Despite an irreverent, party-hearty attitude, L7 also showed a serious side by helping found Rock For Choice, an organization promoting women’s rights and raised funds with a series of benefit concerts that attracted such high-profile supporters as the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Pearl Jam. The political stands and the band’s success put them at the forefront of the growing number of all-women or female dominated alt-rock bands like Hole, Babes in Toyland and 7 Year Bitch and the growing riot grrrl movement of the Northwest.
The group switched labels again for their third album, the breakthrough Slash Records effort Bricks Are Heavy. Helmed by Nirvana producer Butch Vig and powered by the MTV and radio success of the hooky single “Pretend We’re Dead,” the album elevated L7 to new levels of success. The recording is still regarded as one of the classics of the early ’90s explosion.
L7’s rise continued with the follow-up effort Hungry For Stink and the group’s participation in the fourth edition of the Lollapalooza tour in 1994, though Finch would depart before the group released it’s next more experimental album — The Beauty Process: Triple Platinum — three years later. By 2001, the band had gone on an extended hiatus.
Sparks would pursue a solo career, but it wasn’t until late 2014 that L7 would announce a reunion of the classic line-up. The group has been touring steadily since, playing headlining shows and festivals in addition to being the subject of the documentary L7: Pretend We’re Dead coming out this fall.
Earlier this month, it was announced that the band would be releasing its first new music in nearly two decades with a pair of singles on the Don Giovanni label. This sold-out show at Slim’s will feature an opening set by Oakland punk group Year of the Fist.
Wednesday, Sept. 27, 8 p.m. $36 (sold out)