SAN FRANCISCO — The opening night of any tour always brings some specter of intrigue and excitement. For pop and hard rock enigma Poppy, there was an extra shroud of mystery in the air. The singer known for shape-shifting her style, image and sound left the crowd at the sold-out Great American Music Hall to wonder what it was in for.
Poppy packed about as much visual lighting production as one could muster into the confines of the intimate venue. A single large rectangular box stood at the center of the stage as surrounding lights filled the semi-transparent backdrop with an array of colors.
The lights dimmed and the venue took on a distinct red glow with the sounds of passing sirens as the now black-haired singer took the stage alongside her masked four-member band, singing the intro refrain of “Concrete,” from her new album, I Disagree: “Bury me six feet deep/ Cover me in concrete.” By this point the lathered-up crowd was already chanting her name.
The band came in forcefully, keeping up the breakneck pace of stylistic shifts effortlessly without ever muddying the sound. Poppy bounced and bounded along with the driving double-bass groove, adding a glossy pop sheen to the unrelenting metal backdrop.
The center stage box served many purposes and provided an optical illusion effect, mixing mirrors and lighting, creating a reflective effect that sent bursts of light throughout the room. The singer, donning all black with an oversized coat and tightly wound hair buns, transitioned into the industrial stomp of “BLOODMONEY.” She barked the shouted vocal cadence along with the syncopated electro-rhythms amid a sea of flashing strobes and projected lights. The band performed Poppy’s collaboration with Fever 333, “Scary Mask,” with a dynamic heaviness.
The first person to speak wasn’t Poppy, but the box, which communicated in a robotic AI fashion, introducing the singer and leading the crowd in a chant. The fans in the room ranged wildly in age.
Poppy tore through a trio of upbeat rockers in “X,” “Play Destroy” and “Fill the Crown.” She then dug further into 2018’s Am I A Girl, playing a rocking version of the pop-leaning title track before moving on to “Anything Like Me,” which sounded like a combination of Billie Eilish and Marilyn Manson.
Despite the heaviness and intensity to the music, the show still felt fun. It also felt new and exciting, which is a hard trait to find if you go to many shows and think you’ve seen it all. The color scheme reflected the mood of each song, with brighter hues for more positive and hopeful moments and darker ones returning for heavy parts.
Breezy R&B jam “Nothing I Need” filled a similar role in the live set as on I Disagree, providing an alt-pop interlude to break up the intensity of the hard rock around it. In a soft-spoken cadence, Poppy introduced the next song, a cover of—get this—a nu-metal take on t.A.T.u’s “All the Things She Said,” which sent the crowd into a frenzy. Poppy then drove into the trippy “Sit/Stay” before slowing the pace slightly for the mid-tempo balladry of “Sick of the Sun” and “Don’t Go Outside.” The singer had barely stepped off the stage for an encore break before the crowd began chanting her name for her to come back.
Poppy obliged and returned for a ferocious take on “Bite Your Teeth,” which featured the singer staring down the crowd, stone-faced, infusing her own scream into the mix, as well as rousing dark hard rock slam “I Disagree.”
Australian dark wave duo VOWWS opened the show with a tight and brooding set of atmospheric pop songs. The duo spent much of the time in darkness, letting the muted tones of its music do the talking. With deep and dark harmonies, VOWWS came cross as somewhere between Alice In Chains and Depeche Mode, with a little bit of Deftones sprinkled in. The duo mixed guitars and synths over a backdrop of heavy beats and programming.