L7 At the Showbox Review 11-3-15
Words and photos by Ari Rosenschein
Sometimes the best thing a band can do is hibernate and wait for the zeitgeist to shift. By the time L7 quietly ceased operations in 2001 (core member Jennifer Finch departed in 1996), they were at the peak of neither popularity nor cultural visibility. But the ensuing decade and a half has refreshed public perception, culminating in a revival of their kickass take on feminist theory. 2015 may be remembered as the year that gave us back our female rock and roll. Sleater-Kinney, Babes in Toyland and Los Angeles’ original ladies of grunge, L7, have all played to packed houses and garnered critical notices unseen since the 90s. Of this trinity, L7 were always the rawest and dirtiest game in town. A profound influence on the Riot Grrrl movement, the iconic female foursome were first and foremost a ferocious band, regardless of gender. If music fans forgot how good they had it during the era of Bush Sr. and Clinton, L7’s set at the Showbox served as an eighteen song reminder.
Packed into the venue, the 1100 person audience included fans from across the age spectrum, all giddy with anticipation for the band’s return to the Emerald City. The ladies sauntered onstage looking, fit, fierce and remarkably well preserved. Set opener “Death Wish,” a characteristically nihilistic tune from 1990’s Smell The Magic, was followed rapid fire by the snarling “Andres” and tough girl anthem “Everglade.” If grunge was the unholy marriage of 70s hard rock and punk ethos, few bands epitomized the approach more wholly than the Los Angeles foursome. Tonight they maintained that style’s relentless sonic onslaught for the entirety of the set, which placed fan faves “Freak Magnet” and the legendary “Shitlist” alongside rarities like “(Right On) Through” and “One More Thing.”
Since Seattle played an integral part in L7’s ascent to alt rock prominence, it’s tempting to imagine this show held some extra significance. The band celebrated their longstanding ties to our city’s music scene by dedicating their early Sub Pop single “Shove” to label head Jonathan Poneman, who was in attendance. It was a treat to hear Suzie Gardner’s banshee wail cut through that instantly recognizable opening riff. A psych-infused guitar anthem, “Shove” stands out as one of the stone-cold classics of the grunge era-its lyrical jabs at the IRS and bill collectors still relevant today. The blonde guitarist/vocalist even squeezed an extra ounce of bawdy humor from the number, updating its lyrics to “It’s been a millennium since I’ve been laid.”
That wasn’t the only time a member played up their age for entertainment value. Bassist Jennifer Finch, of the fire engine red hair and famously bare feet, joked about having slept with half the crowd only because the rest were not yet 18. “You’re not off the hook,” she deadpanned. Throughout the night, guitarist/vocalist Donita Sparks shook her blond shag vigorously while stalking the stage. “Are we bringing it?” Sparks rhetorically asked the capacity crowd. The sea of hands, crowd surfing bodies and screams of endearment were visceral evidence of the affirmative. Behind the front women, surefooted drummer Dee Plakas drove the band through mid-tempo grinders and punk rave-ups alike.
During L7’s formative years, acts lived and died on the strength of their live show. Their commitment to delivering the goods onstage was in evidence at the Showbox. The encore included MTV staple “Pretend We’re Dead” and finally, a vicious spin through “Fast and Frightening,” which has probably inspired more than a few roller derby monikers. Suzie, who baited the crowd earlier by celebrating the best cup of coffee she’d ever had…in Portland, was the last woman standing. She left the stage amid the kind of feedback unheard in these parts since the storied shows of the 90s. Thanks for taking an extended hiatus to remind us all what we’ve been missing.
Local darlings Tacocat were announced as openers at 3 PM day of show. Representing a new generation of female rockers indebted to the headliners, they quite literally wore that influence on their sleeve. Bassist Bree McKenna’s DIY Camel Lips T-shirt celebrated L7’s cameo in John Waters’ film Serial Mom. At center stage, Emily Nokes fronted the band like a delightful blend of Kathleen Hanna and Belinda Carlisle; her colorful kimono and formidable tambourine skills placed Tacocat’s 80s fixation at the junction of Cyndi Lauper and Pretty in Pink. They bashed out infectious surf influenced bubblepunk with just the right amount of brainy politicized humor to endear them to the Seattle set. The band interspersed favorites like “Bridge to Hawaii” and the latin tinged “Psychedelic Quinceanera” with new tunes like “Horse Girls,” “Talk” and the reproductive rights anthem “Plan B.” These latter numbers, recently recorded with producer Erik Blood (Shabazz Palaces, Thee Satisfaction), are more than a smidge darker, making Tacocat’s next release on Hardly Art an extra intriguing prospect.