Poppy Reigns Supreme Under The Spotlight | Live Review

London, KOKO, February 21 2024

Poppy KOKO gig review
Photo: Garrett Nicholson

Poppy has long-held the position of the outsider. “We’re on the outside of the outside,” she recently quipped of herself and her ‘Zig’ album’s producer Ali Payami. “If there was a room for the outsiders, we’re sitting in the hallway.” And it’s from this position as the interloper that she’s thrived and even, to some extent, satirised, rising as she did from her YouTube performance art background.

Photo: Garrett Nicholson

Yet tonight, on the final night of her UK headline tour at London’s venerable KOKO, she was truly centre stage. And here she laid bare why such a position is usually reserved for those who are fearlessly authentic. Traversing between pop and nu-metal, industrial metal and metalcore she staked her claim. 

Kicking things off in the support slot, though, and promising to make us “feral” for the main event, were Wargasm, who were fresh and fired-up following the recent release of their own album, ‘Venom’ (which incidentally arrived on the same day as ‘Zig’ last year, October 27). The duo of Sam Matlock and Milkie Way acted as mosh pit chiefs, opening up the circle at their command. By the time the ferocious, electro-infused ‘D.R.I.L.D.O.’ arrived – via the biting ‘Venom’ and the equally instructive ‘Bang Ya Head’ – the crowd were frenzied, drummer Adam Breeze was down to his boxers, and the KOKO security were hoping the crowd didn’t take up Matlock’s suggestion of breaking the venue’s record for crowd-surfers.

Yet whilst this punk and metal-induced ferocity – rounded-off by tracks ‘Spit.’ and ‘Do It So Good’ – got us going, Poppy’s approach and aesthetic cut a different hue. The relatively minimal stage design drew the eye to a triangular display of lights at the back, which flickered in-sync with the industrial metal of ‘BLOODMONEY’. As a set opener, this was an opportune choice, given the track – from 2020’s ‘I Disagree’ LP – made metal history when Poppy became the first solo artist to be nominated for Best Metal Performance at the GRAMMYs.

Photo: Garrett Nicholson

The way Poppy flicked so easily here between the light vocal touch of “What do you believe when nobody is watching? What do you believe?” to the abrasive “Keep telling yourself that you’ve been playing nice” would set a thrilling tone to the gig as a whole.

Wearing a full-length leather jacket, her two pigtails protruding upwards like cat’s ears (resembling her beloved sphynx cat Pi), she burst into heavily distorted ‘Zig’ opener ‘Church Outfit’ before subsequent album track ‘Knockoff’ kicked in – the latter playing on the theme of the artificial versus the real that runs throughout her discography.

And speaking of contrasts, there were none more glaring than the heavy-metal-cum-power-pop track ‘X’ (the album closer of 2018’s ‘Am I A Girl?’), which in one moment saw a mosh flashback to Wargasm’s incitement, and in another had people’s arms swaying lovingly in unison.

Photo: Garrett Nicholson

As is customary, Poppy hopped on bass for ‘Hard’ (which first received its live debut during Poppy’s ‘Godless/Goddess’ co-headline tour with PVRIS); and would later help on drums for the opening of ‘Anything Like Me’, which marks yet another tune that switches between raucous rage and a soft, dreamy underbelly.

Bad Omens collaboration ‘V.A.N.’ was of course given a runout, her marching feet and dexterously-delivered lines here proved more than a crowd-pleasing moment.

Photo: Garrett Nicholson

‘Scary Mask’ marked another potential moment for an onstage collab, as you wondered whether Fever333 would stay over in London following their Enter Shikari support slot the previous weekend (although playing France on the same night might have got in the way of that). But once again, Poppy’s individual efforts were more than enough, as she played another track that alternated between heavy metal and airy pop, the refrain “I wear my scary mask when I’m afraid I don’t belong” sung with dazzling beauty.

There would be no need for any such veil here, though, as Poppy showed why she truly does belong. And just as her opening track selection had left an impression, her final two encore tracks were equally apt: ‘Bite Your Teeth’, a track inspired by the Alan Watts quote “trying to define yourself is like trying to bite your own teeth”, and a cover of ‘Spit’, originally by newly-announced labelmates (Sumerian Records) and heavy metal legends, Kittie.

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