L7 (almost) storms the barricades at the Commodore in Vancouver with a stage-diver-free show

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      At the Commodore on Wednesday, June 13
      At one point during L7’s enthusiastically-received show at the Commodore last night, guitarist Donita Sparks—before taking the lead vocal for “Stadium West”—remarked on the presence of barricades, asking in faux-disbelief if this was the same Commodore Ballroom the band had played with the Dayglo Abortions back in 1989, when security protocols were not quite so tight.

      She told us to look it up on YouTube; the only L7 gig I can find that she might have been mentioning was in fact in August of 1990, but as you’ll see, stage diving, moshing, and danger were the order of the day back then.

      On this night, Le Butcherettes—a theatrically compelling Mexican/ American cross pollination—kicked things off without anyone getting kicked in the head by a stage diver. Frontperson Teri Gender Bender, dressed in a form-fitting stretchy, shiny red thing (a leotard? Th’fuck do I know?) took the stage with something like a tribal war cry, and, when not doing stage patter mostly in Spanish, spent the evening showing off an impressive vocal range, equal parts Diamanda Galás and Björk.

      The band’s stage attire (which included new Wavy suits for the guys on bass and guitar and a white-on-white house painter’s T-shirt and jeans for the drummer) brought to mind of those odd '80’s post-apocalyptic movies that have a “future vision” of punk rock in them (Gender Bender, whose braless jiggle and undulating hips belied that stage name a bit, even had paint across the eyes, like Pris in Blade Runner).

      Le Butcherettes.
      Bev Davies.

      Afterwards, at the merch table (where I snagged the band’s new album, bi/MENTAL, which features guest spots from Jello Biafra and Alice Bag) I asked the bassist how to describe his hairstyle (curly and high up top, shorn close at the sides, a bit like a New Wave Lyle Lovett). He was briefly stumped, before coming back with, “I don’t know, a frohawk?”

      Le Butcherettes’ opening number was called “Witchless C-Spot,” and the studio version of it is here. I had to Google C-Spot, in case it was some erogenous zone that I didn’t know about, but it turns out it’s just slang for the clit.

      The audience was interesting, too, with a pleasing contingent of females young enough to have been the literal daughters of L7. But there were also plenty of notables from the scene on hand, including Billy Hopeless, who jawed with me between acts about the impending new Black Halos record, and the Alien Boys’ Wretchederin, who told me of the lasting interest in merch by her previous band the Rebel Spell.

      L7 took the stage promptly at 10 p.m., kicking things off with “Deathwish,” off what remains my favourite L7 album, 1990’s Smell the Magic. (It’s a bit punkier than their later heavy riffing grunge period, though “Garbage Truck,” off Scatter the Rats, the new album, would have fit right in on Smell the Magic, for both its wit and pacing. Sadly, it went unplayed last night).
      “Deathwish” was one of a few songs from Smell the Magic in a set that also featured “Shove,” a cover of Eddie and the Subtitles’ “American Society,” and the evening’s closer, “Fast and Frightening,” which has L7’s signature lyric about a girl with “so much clit she don’t need no balls.”

      Kind of remarkable that 30 years later the lineup last night was the same as on that album: Sparks and Suzi Gardner on guitar, Jennifer Finch on bass, and Demetra Plakas on drums. All but Plakas traded off vocal duties from song to song, with Gardner off to one side in shades, looking a bit like Kim Gordon, and Sparks and Finch interacting the most, swinging their hair in tandem, getting low to the stage, and making the most smartass between-song commentary.

      Sparks prefaced “Crackpot Baby,” for instance, with the question “Do you have any sociopaths in your life? Besides us?” When some wrong notes got played during that song, she quipped “We don’t make mistakes, we make rarities,” and later pointed to the audience and said, “This row up here smells like jazz cigarettes. What’s up, you guys smokin’ the reefers?”

      Finch got some rowdy cheers when she announced “Everglade,” meanwhile, for which she took lead vocals. And Gardner got her own in, too, prefacing “Slide” with a faux phone call to a male lover (I think), ending by calling him a “Goddamn son of a bitch.” Even tho’ she was the quiet one, relative to Finch and Sparks, she provided some of the snarliest, growliest vocals of the night.

      The most topical tune was “Dispatch from Mar-a-Lago,” a stab at Trump, which I snagged video of here. Sparks’s introduction is pretty funny (this is just wayyy easier than writing it out). 

      Overall, it was a fun evening. The moshpit was pretty tame—more of what SNFU's Mr. Chi Pig calls “Der Heavy Head Dance” than actual slamming—and you can’t help but feel, for all the cheering last night, that the audience at that 1990 gig had just maybe had a whole lot more fun than we did.

      But even with the barricades up, L7 still rocked.

      Bev Davies