Depending on the kind of person you are, the presence of a bowlful of complementary earplugs on a venue’s bar counter is either a bad omen or a sign of great things to come. For those who gathered at the Grenada Theatre last night to see the L7, it was definitely the latter.
In fact, the need for loudness was probably one of only a few common denominators shared by this particular audience. Otherwise, the composition of the crowd last evening was awfully diverse. A schoolteacher manned the merch booth. In the hallway, one woman expressed delighted shock at learning from a boy probably no older than 11 that this was his first concert ever. There were, of course, many people who were old enough to remember L7’s early ’90s career zenith, but there were more than a handful of representatives from the Pokemon Go Generation, too.
The night was characterized by a mounting drama between human and machine. It began with the opening act and continued through much of L7’s set. As opener and local Dallas act Sealion ripped through their sea-salted surf-punk tunes, singer Hunter Moehring left broken guitar strings in his wake the way an absent-minded professor might leave a trail of papers fluttering from his briefcase. Sealion’s wall of sound was unimpeded by the shorn strings – if anything, the volume of the band was nearly inversely proportional to the number of strings on Moehring’s guitar.
The overall effect, however, was not one of ill-preparedness or sorry luck. Instead, it felt, almost poetically, that the band’s equipment was disintegrating under the strain of delivering the band’s towering waves of surf-punk.
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The human vs. machine drama would play out on a much grander scale throughout L7’s set. From the moment L7 took the stage, they were followed by a swarm of techs desperate to keep up. In fact, when the curtain rose for the beginning of a set, the first sight was not of the band itself, but of a tech messing around with a guitar. It was only after this that L7 took the stage.
While their average age may be nearing 50, L7’s stage energy licked out over the crowd like a sun flare. Bassist Jennifer Finch immediately started high kicking; Donita Sparks’ snarl sounded like it had been slow-cooking continuously over low heat for the entirety of the band’s 13-year hiatus. And the guitars were massive.
L7 is typically categorized with either grunge or the later Riot Grrl movement, but they actually predate them both. When they formed in 1985 in Los Angeles, hair metal was in the air. And while L7 is certainly no hair metal band, it seems they did learn a thing or two about monolithic guitar sounds from that scene.
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Like Sealion, it seemed almost as though L7’s equipment struggled to keep up with them. (Though, of course, the band members do have full-time jobs and only tour in long-weekend-length bursts – so they were a little out of practice, too.) Techs were constantly rushing up to upright fallen drum mikes, to replace bass guitars. Finch was left at one point in the night dancing, bassless, in the middle of the song, due to technical difficulties.
This aspect of the show had an endearing quality to it. (“We come to Texas to get messy,” shouted Sparks at the beginning of the set.) The band was able to shake these incidents off, even starting songs over without awkwardness. Tis is the same band that spent Wednesday night busking in Deep Ellum. L7 just doesn’t take themselves that seriously.
As Sparks told the Observer ahead of their concert last night, “We’re not gonna bother you with any kind of bummers, even though we feel them very deeply. … If the crowd in Dallas wants to scream ‘Shitlist’ at the top of their lungs, this will be the place to do it.” And that, combined with a winning set from one of our very own, was probably just what we needed.