O2 Forum Kentish Town
June 26th, 2019
There is no better time than now to be a pop fan. And with a loaded syringe clenched between her teeth, Mikaela Straus – more popularly known as King Princess – is another in a long line of promising young artists poised to give the scene a faith-affirming shot in the arm. Signed to Mark Ronson’s Zelig Records, her much-anticipated debut album is expected to hit stores later this year. Brett Dunford cruised by Kentish Town way to take a peek at this rising star, along with supporting act, Mallrat.
While my line of work is more rooted in 1970s British Punk, I’ve followed King Princess’ rise for the last year and think she’s miles above anything else in pop right now. In fact, she transcends it. There’s something utterly mystifying about this young lady that I can’t put my finger on, and the strange fascination I’ve fallen into is only bolstered further by her immense songwriting talent. The 2018 download-only EP, Make My Bed, is perfect from start to finish – those five songs are so beautifully delivered and sequenced that I’m frustrated at not being able to own them in physical format.
But weep not because there’s a full-length album ready to drop, and if lead single Cheap Queen is any indication then it’s going to rip the doors off their hinges. As I stood inside the Kentish Town Forum on a warm Wednesday night, I practically salivated into my scotch on the rocks at the prospect of getting a 60-minute live dose of pop’s latest mover and shaker.
At around 8pm, the lights went down and Mallrat took to the stage. The crowd seemed to know her, which is always a good indication. The Australian popster looked strikingly familiar and it really bugged me until my assigned photographer later remarked on her resemblance to Icelandic singer Björk. And come to think of it, she was bopping around in a dress not completely unlike the one in the video for It’s Oh So Quiet.
Opening with the melodic dance piano and handclaps of For Real, I found myself nicely distracted by her coy, soft-spoken swagger. Inside Voices followed suit and was the one that I gravitated to most. If I’m honest, everything she performed could quite easily get the clubs shaking on a Saturday night.
‘This song is about being abducted by aliens…’ introduced UFO, and the crowd indulged in a sway of appreciation. The more I watched Mallrat doing her thing, the more I enjoyed it. Not just that but she’s also quite sweet and likeable while chatting through the breaks in-between.
As the set closed with Groceries and Uninvited, everyone was happily grooving. I could’ve done a few songs pit-wise but had to conserve my energy for the main attraction. When I returned from the bar with another scotch, I noticed the place had suddenly packed to bursting point. It should be mentioned that this show was previously booked at Heaven and needed to be upgraded to the O2 Forum because it sold-out so quickly. And judging by the numbers I saw, those extra 700 tickets made available through switching venues had obviously sold-out, too!
Thirty-minutes later, King Princess and her band walked on. My word, the crowd roared like Elvis Presley himself had risen from the grave. I felt a dip in my stomach and knew that the next hour was going to be special – you can’t beat the excitement of seeing an up-and-coming artist that’s destined for the stratosphere.
The country tones of introductory hook Useless Phrases abruptly collapsed into Cheap Queen, with its gentle, pulsating stomp. KP (I’ll abbreviate her name from here onwards for convenience sake but she’s a lot more than a packet of peanuts, I assure you) then strapped on a Fender for Upper West Side. Wow, she’s actually a pretty good guitarist! Her band played in a competent, earthy style and it was nice to hear so many different nuances where the tracks were adapted from studio production to live performance.
Playing her guitar for a significant portion of the concert, KP shifted the gears down for two ballads, Tough on Myself and Maybe It Will Change. I follow her on Facebook and have seen many comparisons from fans over the last year, but tonight I’m going say that she’s the Gay White Nina Simone. Her voice is like velvet – it wraps around your ears and leads you by the hand down the dusty roads and empty dancefloors. Simply magical!
The rousing Pussy is God drew gasps of praise from her adoring legions, who sung it word-for-word. Now, let me emphasise that the gaff was chock full of girls engaging in public displays of affection, but I noticed it was a bit more widespread throughout that specific number. I got the impression the song has maybe become something of a national anthem for KP’s fans in the LGBTQ+ community. I found it quite heart-warming to observe two women mouthing the lyrics to each other while embracing inside a pride flag. I love rainbows at concerts – they always give this ‘straight’ 46-year-old a total sense of safety.
I couldn’t tell you what went on during 1950 because I was too busy singing it at the top of my lungs. Pardon my French, the moment was fucking special. Her voice sounded beautiful and it’s clear to see why she’s under such intense media scrutiny. But the biggest cheer of the evening, bar none, came when Talia closed the main set. And fearing an imminent conclusion, we lapped up every single heartbroken drop.
Naturally, the band returned a few minutes later for a breezy rendition of Mark Ronson’s latest single, Pieces of Us, before ending with a rocking Ohio. It was during the latter’s Moonage Daydream-esque riffing that I began to wonder if I was watching an embryonic Bowie at work. Perhaps that sentiment is too premature and flighty to express for the time being but, hey-ho, I just expressed it!
So many pop stars tend to bedazzle with their choreographed dance moves over a laptop-driven beat, and you get none of that with King Princess. I know that I say the ‘pop’ word a few times in this review because it’s where her music has been pigeonholed in the press, but she’s completely rock and roll in the live medium. No two ways about it. This gig should be considered a breakthrough performance on British soil and I shall definitely attend all the others that will undoubtedly follow.
And she got a pretty schweet hash pipe from a fan out of it.
Upper West Side
Tough on Myself
Maybe It Will Change
Pussy is God
Forget About It
Pieces of Us
Words by Brett Dunford. You can find more of Brett’s writing on his profile.