There was a time in musical history in which angry women ruled the earth. In the musical domain, where are all of the angry women now? Were they pacified by Girl Power? Did they all grow up, give in to marriage and have kids? Are the last remaining handful all in the band Savages? Grunge left it’s legacy implanted in mainstream music. The charts contain legions of young male bands singing rock anthems in matching flannel and Pacific Northwest woodsman beards whose influences include Nirvana, but they have probably never heard of Tad or Mudhoney. One glance at Instagram will show that modern subculture has become so sanitised that even Goth has gone pastel! So where does that leave the Riot Grrrl? Apparently, they’re all here to see L7 tonight.
The crowd is a female heavy mix with an unsurprising proportion of older fans of both sexes. When the band arrive on stage, they are met with a thunderous reception. Our rock ‘n’ rage wonder women are back again and we have missed them. Taking a moment to enjoy the response they rip into Deathwish. They follow with the pseudo-apology to a long haired lad from Hollywood, Andres.
Bass player Jennifer Finch and guitarist Donita Sparks are so active on stage that their guitar cables are tied in a knot before the song is over, sending a pair of stage techs into a circuit of crazed activity as they communicate with wild gesticulations. After bouncing her way through the song she rolls around the stage in a state of musical ecstasy, activating every photographer and crowd member with a camera phone to raise in a human tsunami towards her. Once upright again the band crank through Everglade with trademark grizzly vocals and scratchy reverb. Sparks and Finch match each other as they lurch and head bang into the gust of a fan in firm v-shaped ‘rock stance’.
Breathing a big sigh into the microphone between songs Finch admits now the pro-photographers have left the pit, “I can let my stomach out now, it’s so hard keeping it in that long!” More relaxed she muses, “Now you can see the soft under belly of rock ‘n’ roll.” I don’t think this audience care, L7 and their fans have remained a mirror image of each other over the years. For Riot Grrls and female grunge and metal followers they were the unkempt, vibrant mop headed women who didn’t polish themselves up for the sake of conformity or commercial success.
They were gloriously unladylike to the point of distasteful, matching the rowdy behaviour of male bands with stunts like raffling off sex with drummer Demetra Plakas or Donita Sparks dropping her pants, or chucking her tampon at the audience. Time and lives have moved forward for all, both L7 and their followers. I don’t think there’s a hard rocking mama in the crowd who resents seeing the band shaking every inch of their sexy ‘Mom-bods’ when possessed by the music. It is only incredible that established bands still have so few female members and so reassuring that they are still contemporaries (in every way) to the women who support them.
L7 are burning through their set at a pace, serving a reminder of how many strong songs populate their back catalogue. There is no single vocalist in L7, lead vocals are shared out between Finch, Sparks and guitarist Suzi Gardiner. Gardiner’s other worldly sinister screaming and wheezing voice is brilliantly pitched on raging tracks like Monster. Sharing the spotlight is Plakas’ fierce and powerful drumming beating a tempo that makes the crowd begin to thrash as they plough through People Like You, and an almost sweet rolling melody on One More Day before letting lose the full-throated vexation of Let It Slide.
Sparks pipes up between songs, “Isn’t rock ‘n’ roll fun? Yeah, rock ‘n’ roll is fun!” The crowd and the band agree as they stomp through Crackpot Baby. Other highlights include Shove, where once again Gardiner screams out her husky vocals with as much seething rage as ever. A throbbing rendition of Shit List is a welcome return for the all time theme song of pissed off women everywhere.
In great rock ‘n’ roll tradition the band leaves the stage knowingly withholding their ‘big hit’ for the encore. Sure enough the pleaded crowd returns them to the stage. In a rare moment of banter the gals thank the crew and disclose that the guys who have crewed for them on this tour all got matching L7 tattoos in their honour. After forcing them to reveal said tattoos by chanting, “show us yer tats!” they confessed, “We get our kicks over stuff like this at our age.”
For their final round the audience are treated to later song American Society, a crowd pleasing lament on the state of new millennium American culture and, of course, their biggest UK chart hit on the same subject but pre-Millennium, Pretend We’re Dead. Tonight L7 have provided a much needed dose of female angst, of representation and noisy fun to a much deprived crowd. The only question left is who will take the baton next?
L7 continue their tour in Australia on dates from 6th – 15th October 2016
Review by Sarah Sievers, photography by Marc Broussley. L7 at The Forum on 13th September 2016.