"The steak tartare was delicious," singer-guitarist Donita Sparks announced as L7 took the stage at the Coach House Monday night. What? Has making the cover of Spin magazine turned the quintessential L.A.-grunge rock queens into pampered stars? To the contrary, the remark was Sparks' way of expressing her displeasure with the Coach House's dinner club seating arrangement, which kept fans from packing up against the front of the stage.
L7 may be teetering on the brink of rock stardom, but its members clearly are reluctant to desert the slam-dance pit and relinquish their close association with their audience. Although the tables kept the fans from coming to L7, they didn't keep L7 from its fans. Sparks made two forays into the audience on the tabletops , while at her flanks, singer-guitarist Suzi Gardner and singer-bassist Jennifer Finch kept up constant dialogue with the folks packed into the dancing areas on either side of the stage.
While encouraging crowd participation, L7 parodied conventional crowd-involvement techniques. "Did you see the Billy Ray Cyrus special?" asked Finch. "He had the audience on one side of the room trying to make more noise than the audience on the other side of the room. Aren't you glad we don't make you do that?" Instead Finch got the crowd to shout "Donita! I want to make a soup out of your dirty socks." Sparks countered by urging the audience to yell "Jennifer! I want to see you in zip-lock Baggies in my freezer."
The band's humor kept the crowd smiling while its hard-edged music kept the room rocking. Throughout its 90-minute set, L7 locked into a thunderous groove that seemed to hit people right in their solar plexuses; it was virtually impossible to not shake one's head or stamp one's feet. Dee Plakas attacked her drum kit with relentless fury while Sparks' and Gardner's guitars let no eardrum escape unscathed.
For all its sound and fury, however, L7 left room for vocal touches that added personality to the songs, whether it was the humorous way in which Sparks rolled the "r" as she barked out the title line of "Fast and Frightening," or Gardner's frustrated growl in "Shove."
The band also managed to work plenty of provocative ideas into its hard rocking songs. "Wargasm" may be the sharpest criticism since Dylan of America's infatuation with military power, and "Pretend We're Dead" is a pointed indictment of American culture's more brain-numbing aspects.
The 22-song set included most of the material from L7's two most recent albums, 1992's "Bricks Are Heavy" and 1991's "Smell the Magic," and a number or two from its eponymous debut album from 1978. A new song, "Stuck Here Again," featured what Sparks called "space alien" guitar sounds, produced with an effects pedal that is her newest toy.
Preceding L7, Cosmic Psycho, a band from Australia, seared bare-bones rock down to a white-hot skeleton. The power trio started its set with an ear-piercing blast of pure static fuzz that could have singed neck hairs all the way to Melbourne. The group segued right into a relentless, lightning-fast rhythm and didn't let up for the next 40 minutes. The Cosmic Psychos climaxed its set with "Lost Cause"--dedicated to "the one and only L7."
The opening act, Chokebone, packed plenty of sonic punch but wore out its welcome long before its 30-minute set smashed to a close. In this post-post-post punk era it takes more than writhing on the stage to catch a crowd's interest.