30 years of “Bricks Are Heavy”: L7 at the Regent
In celebration of its 30th Anniversary, L7 performed their groundbreaking 1992 album Bricks are Heavy in its entirety for two sold out nights at the Regent Theater. With the original lineup present, L7 brought the rage-filled attitude of 1992 to the modern day with the utmost passion as they played to a crowd of diehard fans of the classic album. With how fundamental L7 was in refining the grunge sound and empowering women artists of the early 90’s, the concert was a rare opportunity to experience one of the most important eras in music history up-close and intimately. It’s hard to imagine the album being 30 years old now, with L7 still generating the youthful punk-rock spirit that made them legends in the first place.
One of the first things that could be noticed upon entering The Regent Theater that night was how wide the range of ages in the audience was. It was immediately apparent how inspirational L7 has been for younger feminism-focused music scenes, as they had been releasing albums before the Riot Grrrl movement and the mainstream explosion of female-fronted punk bands like No Doubt in the 90’s. Even though many of these younger fans may not even listen to grunge music or other scenes that L7 grew out of, it was easy to tell that they were deeply inspired by the themes of sexual liberation and disregard for traditional gender roles that L7 represents. Although there are many aspects of the music industry that still need to improve in their representation of women, it’s beautiful to see the amount of respect that younger music fans have for artists that were fundamental in this battle. As soon as the L7 logo could be seen towering behind the band as they hit the stage, it was as if a brick was thrown through the glass window of anticipation for the rare performance.
The opening track for the album “Wargasm” instantly ramps the energy up to 11 with its aggressive guitar riff that combines the speed of hardcore punk with a dark, brutal tone evoking a much more metal influence. The song’s themes of sluggishly lying around the house and masturbating while horrific news stories of war appear on TV match up with lead vocalist Donita Sparks’ dreary way of singing to embody the depressive anger of the grunge era in its purest form. The song may be filled with existential dread, but its heavy and blistering presentation sparked a lively punk rock spirit in the audience that had everybody dancing with the most upbeat energy.
L7 did not ramp down the momentum for a single moment as they instantly broke into the fuzzy and distortion-filled second track of the album “Scrap”. While the track is slower in speed, its heavy distortion and intense drums feel like one long breakdown meant to transition the listener from the speedy and powerful opening of Wargasm into the album’s peak moment. After finishing “Scrap”, Donita Sparks playfully threatened the crowd by stating “If you leave after this song, we will hunt you down”, filling the venue with applause as everybody knew which song was coming next in the set.
Everything about “Pretend We’re Dead” marks it as an absolute 90’s classic, with its sludge-filled signature guitar riff and drone-y chorus that contrast with the upbeat, poppy drums and lighter backup vocals to fill any listener with the angsty dread that the era embodies. While it is L7’s most popular track, it is criminally underrated in how often it’s glossed over in mainstream retrospectives of the grunge era. The love for the infectiously catchy classic was raging throughout The Regent as soon as the instantly recognizable riff could be heard. While the L7 fans that have been with them since the beginning weren’t hopping around in the frenzy that younger fans in the room were, everybody was passionately singing along to the legendary song in absolute awe of experiencing it live.
L7 did an incredible job of maintaining the fluidity of the album, even as they took short breaks to interact with the room and introduce each track. With Donna Sparks explaining that “This next song is about domestic abuse revenge”, L7 broke into the dark and foreboding track “Diet Pill”. Even as the grungier tracks slow down a bit, they never lose their chaotic punk energy as the distorted feedback and heavy drums create a noisier environment that evokes the grisly downbeat experimentation found on Black Flag’s “My War” album. L7 manages to be equal parts grunge as they are punk, and they are absolute masters in crafting the loudest sound possible with their signature style.
One of L7’s most unique aspects is the emphasis placed on each member’s talents, rather than the focus being directed towards any lead member. While it may seem that vocalist and guitarist Donna Sparks leads the group upon first impression, it was clear throughout the set how important each member is to the band’s vision as rhythm guitarist Suzi Gardner and bassist Jennifer Finch would take over on vocals to match the energy of the track being performed. Jennifer Finch sang “Everglade” with a much deeper and blues-y rock-n-roll sort of attitude than the previous songs, and this change-up in roles had the enormous sound of L7 feel even more dynamic in personality. This variation continued as Gardner performed lead vocals for the track “Slide” with a much darker and metal-esque tone, as Sparks and Finch harmonized with lighter anthemic back-up vocals behind her. With the importance on empowering themes of boosting women up that L7 emphasizes in their music, the equal spotlight on each member personifies this message clearly.
As the performance of Bricks are Heavy was nearing its conclusion, L7 still had one absolute classic up their sleeve with the classic “Shitlist”. Although “Pretend We’re Dead” may have been more of a mainstream hit, “Shitlist” had the most enthusiastic response from the crowd throughout the night. The face-melting guitar solo from Sparks that opens the track has so much character that it feels as if the lead vocals begin before they even do. The menacing prolonged singing of “Shiiiiiitttttlliiiiiissssttt” during the chorus inspires some sort of primal reaction in the listener with how much snarky personality is booming throughout it, with the entire Regent joining along in screaming the anthem. Sparks’ vocals became harsher and turned into passionate high-pitched screams as the track slowly built in its spiral of noise.“Shitlist” may be the L7 track that represents their style the most with its raw rage-filled emotion and how absolutely heavy the sludge becomes as it progresses.
After closing out Bricks are Heavy with the final track “This Aint Pleasure”, L7 showcased some fan-favorite tracks from their other releases with an equal level of enthusiasm from the audience. With the album only being 37 minutes long, the crowd was not ready to end the evening so early and L7 was more than happy to keep the celebration going. It was easy to tell that the band was having just as much fun as everybody in the room as they decided to close out with 2 covers, “American Society” by Eddie and The Subtitles and “Suffragette City” by David Bowie. “Suffragette City” felt like a perfect closing track to the evening, as L7’s ambitious blend of genres in their sound could not have been a more appropriate tribute to Bowie’s experimental nature. Even after the high energy passion in these covers, the room still wanted more as L7 came back out to perform their fast and snarling punk track from earlier in their discography “Fast and Frightening”.
L7 is not only one of the most influential artists in the foundation of the grunge era, but they were even more fundamental in fighting against the expectations that all-female bands were faced with in the late 1980’s mainstream. It may be hard to imagine these outdated standards now with how prevalent more alternative women are in modern music scenes, but underground movements like punk and grunge were heavily male-dominated while mainstream culture had strict expectations on gender roles that limited artists immensely in this period. L7’s refusal to play by these standards could not have been an easy journey in the beginning, but their dedication to these ethics and creating masterpieces like Bricks are Heavy that the mainstream could not ignore has changed music forever in the freedom that artists of all genders can now exhibit.
Words by: Daniel Ryan
Photos by: Chris Molina