serpentwithfeet

serpentwithfeet at the Village Underground, London April 13, 2018,

May 11, 2018 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


"People try to tell you that the Internet is bad," Josiah Wise, the tattooed, septum-pierced man behind serpentwithfeet, tells his audience. "But they're wrong."

It's easy to see why Wise loves the Internet. He's the sort of artist who has thrived through it, using it to share experimental, devastatingly-sad piano ballads, link up with avant-garde label Tri Angle Records, and find a group of equally odd-ball artists to share his passion with. But during his live show, Wise's love for the Internet is clear for another reason. It's in the way that he speaks in the language of social media, switching between painful honesty and dry, improvised humor at will. Wise uses comedy and tragedy interchangeably, cracking jokes in the middle of his songs; sometimes to playfully undermine his own lyrics.

"Despite all the jokes, it's all very serious," he sing-speaks to us mid-song, R Kelly's Trapped in the Closet style, but there doesn't need to be a distinction. It's all the same thing in that tragic 'you have to laugh...' sort of way. That's what kids on Twitter and Instagram get, when they're cracking jokes about their own mental health and depressing financial futures. And if he had been born 10 years later, Wise could have been one of those kids. As much as he's an incredible singer, he could also be an impressive comedian.

However, instead of cracking jokes, Wise apparently grew up as a "moody" kid who fell in love with singing through his church choir. At various points in this show, the spirit of church is evoked; both through the sombre, confessional nature of these songs and Wise's own references to gospel. It's a minimalist performance to the extreme; Wise is on-stage for about 35 minutes, backed only by stark, industrial lighting, but he uses it to create an intimate atmosphere.

As for the songs themselves, they are still brilliant. All of Wise's kitschy, melodramatic antics would over-shadow lesser songs, instead they reinforce how strong they are. Not even self-sabotage can hurt them.

The set consisted of songs from his 2016 blisters EP, along with a few unreleased ones from his upcoming album soil, with all of them containing Wise's trademark blend of classical music, gospel, and gentle waves of ambient synths. Throughout, Wise's voice is as powerful and nimble as it is on record and on the night's closing performance of "bless ur heart," his most fully-developed song, he is mesmerising.

As serpentwithfeet, Wise doesn't seem like a man from this world. He has a habit of making grand swooping gestures and elegant twitches like a bird, and with his occult tattoos and an over-sized septum piercing, he's notably eccentric, even in edgy East London. But with his love of kitchsy, absurd melodrama, Wise brings a layer of warmth to these obscure, strange songs. We already knew that he was an exceptional singer and a potent lyricist but with this show, it's clear that he's also a star-in-waiting. His music as serpentwithfeet is characterized by its sombre, biblical nature but it is how funny and how generous Wise is on stage that marks him out as an artist to watch. It feels like Josiah Wise has always had something powerful to share with the world and now, he's finally worked out how to share it.

(www.serpentwithfeet.bandcamp.com)

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