Live review: Poppy, London KOKO

Enigmatic alt. superstar Poppy shows why she’s the name on everyone’s lips in London…

Live review: Poppy, London KOKO
James Hickie
Garrett Nicholson

“I’m so happy to be here in my favourite city: London,” that unmistakably sweet voice tells KOKO partway through proceedings tonight. “Are you having a wonderful time?”

We are, of course, but it’s worth noting that despite Poppy being present, in pigtails and a black trench coat, she’s not actually saying those words – they’ve been pre-recorded and come out over the PA.

Why? Well, we’re not entirely sure, but it adds a suitably strange air to proceedings. Plus, in the age of AI, when the lines of what is real and synthetic have become so blurred, it gives us further cause to ponder the question: who or what is Poppy? But while this encounter, the first of two nights in Camden, is certainly up-close, you can’t say it’s particularly personal. It gives us far more of Poppy, the performer, than Moriah Rose Pereira, the person.

When the show is this good, though, does that matter?

First, however, there are the thoroughly modern stylings of WARGASM. Playing as a quintet, the electro-punks make the stage as chock-full as their sound – and want this crowd to be just as busy.

“Do you know what happens now?” co-vocalist and guitarist Sam Matlock asks during the introduction to Pyro Pyro. The answer is to break into a massive circle-pit, but fans don’t follow suit quickly enough, prompting chastisement from Sam, who expects more given that this is his band’s hometown. “You’re embarrassing us in front of Poppy,” he jokes. Thankfully, the instructions in their song Bang Ya Head (‘Bang your head until you break your neck’) come over loud and clear, with crunchy results.

So how is one supposed to act watching our headliner? Apparently the answer is to scream, cry, swoon, sing and mosh – sometimes all in the course of the same song. The great thing about Poppy’s music is that it sounds like skipping wildly through a playlist, with snatches of metal and pop and electro and show tunes, stitched together like a sonic collage rather than seamlessly blended like a cocktail. It gives it an unpredictable quality in the age of shortened attention spans.

How, then, do the zigs and zags of the 29-year-old’s career fit together in a live environment? Flawlessly, as it turns out. Despite the automation of some of her greetings, there’s nothing robotic about Poppy’s performance. She sashays to the molten riffs of I Disagree. She kicks her knees high during the riot grrrl-esque Lesson The Damage. She bunnyhops amidst the maelstrom of Scary Mask. This is the sandbox in which she plays.

Despite her history of performance art, production-wise things are kept simple, with the focus remaining squarely on Poppy, the singular figure these seemingly disparate songs have in common. Backed by a guitarist and drummer, she often stands in front of a pyramid-shaped screen emanating jagged lines like the titular flux of her 2021 album. At other points, light radiates outwards in circles, giving the appearance of a doorway to the other dimension she’s just walked out of.

Presumably it’s a dimension in which relatively short sets are de rigueur. Finishing with the five-tracks-for-the-price-of-one lunacy of Concrete and the caustic Bite Your Teeth, Poppy leaves us after barely an hour. There is not one dissenting voice from the many balconies, though, as any time in her company is evidently to be treasured. Plus, it’s an evening so dense and rich in sound and vision that anything more might be overindulgence.

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