PHOENIX — Just to the south of downtown Phoenix sits a section of the city that predates the State of Arizona. It is known now as the Warehouse District, but it started life as Chinatown around 1870. Over the years, it became the beating heart of Phoenix, as the location next to the railway was the perfect place to set up shop to sell items like cotton and produce. Toward the western edge was a warehouse that housed a long since vanished business called “Arizona General Electric Supply.” It also housed a printing press, considered to be one of the best in Phoenix at the time the building opened in 1920.
Phoenix grew up. The new warehouses became old, some being demolished for the shiny and new. For 100 years, the exterior of the building on the corner of 5th Ave and Madison did not change. The inside did. The new and the old met, and out of this marriage came the concert and event venue that is now known as The Pressroom. In this historic warehouse, an eager crowd gathered to see Poppy, who was joined by VOWWS. Poppy, much like the warehouse, has changed from the first time the world was made aware of her presence. We met Poppy as she sat in front of a camera eating cotton candy, we watched as she talked to a plant, we listened as she sang “Lowlife,” a song that has a bit of a reggae-meets-pop sound to it. Her first tour was, in a word, bizarre.
The night started with VOWWS, an Australian death pop band taking the stage at exactly 8:00 PM. Death pop and goth rock are siblings, if not twins, and VOWWS is an excellent example of the genre. VOWWS is a 2-person band, co-fronted by Rizz on the synth/keyboard and vocals and Matt James on the guitar and vocals. They are unique in how they play live shows: The stage stayed far darker than normal, bathed primarily in red and blue lights. It was a bit disorienting at first, but it fit beautifully.
What the set lacked in energy, it made up for in catchy beats and incredible harmony between Rizz and James. The sound is both new and familiar, reminiscent of Depeche Mode. Rizz wore white facial makeup with black around her eyes, hunched over her keyboard and swaying to the music. At one point, she stepped away to join James while singing on what looked like a handheld trucker mic, with the setup giving her voice a bit of distortion. James is an excellent guitarist and vocalist, moving very little in the space around the microphone. But much like Rizz, he obviously enjoyed playing the music just as much as the audience loved hearing it. VOWWS has collaborated with Gary Numan – one of the fathers of industrial music – and have worked with Chino Moreno from Deftones on a song and was asked to play the Dia De Los Deftones festival. Unlike the stage they played on, they have a bright future ahead of them.
Chants of “Poppy” were heardas Rizz and James cleared the stage of their equipment. As soon as the siren that precedes the song “Concrete” started, the entire crowd exploded in cheers and screams.
When the world first met Poppy on YouTube, the videos were bright, her dark hair was bleached to a near incandescent blonde, the background was white, and the pastel colors around her came across as brilliant. Her first EP Bubblebath was composed of bright, airy music that had some deep lyrics. Over the last 4 years, her sound and persona evolved, starting with Am I a Girl?, culminating in her current album I Disagree.
Before this tour, she split with her creative partner Titanic Sinclair for reasons that can be found here, releasing a music video that was the exact opposite of her first music video, black and white, with harsh electronic music and biting lyrics: “Sorry for what I’ve become, because I’m becoming someone.” As she took the stage, it became apparent that the Poppy that the world got to know 5 years ago is long gone, and before us stood what can only be described as a force to be reckoned with.
It would not be accurate to say that “Poppy walked onto the stage,” as it was more of a march of an artist who owned the stage and knew it. She climbed the steps to face what looked almost like a giant cell phone, the reflective surface allowing her to look at the crowd with her back turned to them, giving some in the audience their first look at her dramatically different style. Gone is the long blonde hair; it was up in teddy bear buns and was now her natural brunette color. What hadn’t changed was her sheer talent.
“Concrete” is best described as a rollercoaster ride of a song. From the wailing siren, we are transported to screaming guitars, followed by a few dashes of kawaii metal ala Babymetal thrown in for good measure. Halfway through the song, a mosh pit had formed, someone was crowd surfing, and shortly after, someone else was holding a shoe over their head that they had just found.
There are many shows that tend to work their way to surreal; a minute and a half through the first song found us standing knee deep in surreal – and not a single person in the crowd seemed like they wanted it any other way.
There are still traces of what some may call the old Poppy: at one point while addressing the crowd, she spoke in the voice that first captured the attention of the internet. An outsider who had never watched any of her YouTube videos would likely have been momentarily confused by this, as it now seems so out of character. However, much like the building she stood in, the old and the new co-exist in a symbiotic relationship, the new only existing because of the old.
While surreal, it was also apparent that Poppy is here for the long haul. She owns the stage as if she’s been doing this for a decade or two. She has been writing thought-provoking lyrics that cut deep for some time, and she is just extremely talented overall. As an example, while singing “I Disagree,” it became apparent that the lyrics are likely rather personal as her voice took on an edge and she let out a scream that would make Lacey Sturm proud. She also had a downright spectacular cover of the t.A.T.u. song “All the Things She Said.” While this tour finished the US leg in LA on 2/21/2020, she is returning to Phoenix on August 4th, opening for Deftones in a show that should not be missed.