L7 Leaves Powerful Memories

L7, Love Battery and 7 Year Bitch, last night, Paramount Theatre.

Seeing L7 on stage, you can't help but notice they're from Los Angeles.

Yes, the members of L7, who played the Paramount last night, are all women. But that's hardly noteworthy, let alone subversive, anymore, now that mainstream America is accepting women in rock with only the occasional condescending remark.

What really makes L7 subversive is what they've done all along. They take the dumbest elements of heavy metal, one of Los Angeles' major exports, and make them smart, adding wit, irony and a dose of feminist thinking. Macho posturing, boastful lyrics and ridiculously-shaped guitars all formed the framework for last night's 75-minute set, but L7 is an alternative band with a sense of humor.

It's hard to work within heavy-metal constraints. The crunching riffs, wheedling solos and pounding drums seem to sift from the depth of L.A.'s La Brea Tar Pits to the Sunset Strip to major label records every two or three years like a plague. But L7 takes those raw elements, eliminates the glitzy sheen and makes it work.

When singer/guitarist Donita Sparks growls "My diet pill is wearing off," (from "Diet Pills," the best song of last night's show), it's as cathartic as heavy metal should be. But later in the song, she sings "Calgon can't take me away," and it becomes the punchline to an unexpected joke.

Many L7 songs twist in that way, and although the set was

short, the band powered through all the best songs of the last two albums, "Bricks Are Heavy" and the SubPop release "Smell the Magic."

On songs like "Mr. Integrity," "Just Like Me" and "Fast and Frightening," Sparks and singer/guitarist Suzi Gardner eschewed excessive soloing for a fast, buzzing and taut guitar riff. "American Society," a slower form of damage, was one huge, howling churn. Dee Plakas' drumming was fierce, solid and consistent throughout the show.

The stage posturing was purposefully excessive. It had to be. At one point during "Just Like Me," Sparks and bassist Jennifer Finch went into synchronized head-bobbing, which Finch broke out of to "oof" into the microphone, to the beat.

Love Battery, who either play brilliantly or badly, did both. Several new songs, including one called "Head of Ringo," showed the tension and power they're capable of creating. But some songs' careful crafting were lost in the Paramount's tricky acoustics, and some were just botched.

7 Year Bitch's set lost momentum early due to a mushy bass sound. As usual, Selen Vigil's belted vocals came through clear, and the second half of the set showed decent power and some variations on the formula sound they've adhered to so far.