Serpentwithfeet With Katie Gately At The Echo, Tuesday July 17th 2018
Serpentwithfeet should be a character of a romantic novel, the deeply romantic one who kills for love and loves in order to kill himself over and over. Making love is his job and first duty, and his entire being self-consumes in the task that he embraces as if it were a religious vocation, blurring the lines between sacred and profane. For serpentwithfeet, there is no difference between spiritual and sensual, he devotes his life to sensual love as a nun does to Jesus, exposing to everyone how much flesh and cum there is in religious devotion. On Tuesday night, serpenwithfeet was headlining his first show at the Echo in Los Angeles, and he looked radiant during a somewhat too-short set.
Sound sculptor Katie Gately was opening the show with an almost transcendental electronica, producing interesting slowly-sprawling soundscapes with her whisper-like vocals. The result was actually very cinematic, first resonating like a loud silence with a vague medieval vibe, often growing into the grandiose and mysterious. Gately is a producer who was asked by superstar Björk to remix a track from her ‘Vulnicura’ album, and she rightly calls herself a sound designer, as she records sounds of everyday objects in her house, then transforms, processes and chops them so heavily that they become unrecognizable and haunting, while she manages to get human fear out of a scanner or a oven door. Live, I had no idea of her original production, as this sounded like music to me, while incorporating a large touch of keyboard. However, the nightmare was often real, and the produced sounds were evoking long efforts or imaginary slo-mo fights, more ethereal than brutal, like a slowed-down production of Lords of the Rings, or an epic series soundtrack with ascending white noise. If I am lost each time I have to connect my DVD player to my TV receiver, Katie Gately never looked remotely lost, reigning like an avant-gardist queen over her table of intricate network of threads and knobs.
Since Gately contributed to songs from his debut album ‘Soil’, the transition to serpentwithfeet is easy,… however the tone and the atmosphere got very different. First of all, Josiah Wise, aka serpentwithfeet, has a huge ‘Deacon’ tattoo in the neck, several other tattoos on his head that he was hiding below his cap, but the words ‘suicide’, ‘heaven’ and a pentagram can be read on his head, all complemented by a very large septum ring. And this says everything about his desire to confuse and entertain people with his ‘pagan gospel’.
‘Whisper’ started with a delicate clarinet-like sound behind Wise’s R&B-inspired vocals getting to insane heights with an almost comical timber and a fragile tremolo, while the song slowly grew with a gospel-like vibe, as if a soaring chorus was backing him up. Meanwhile, serpentwithfeet was dancing, moving and holding a incongruous poms as if he was cheerleading for an invisible team in the sky. Right away, he told us to embrace our fragility, and the talking never ceased, while he was often finishing a sentence with an a cappella singing line. Alternating between the flamboyant performance with a mic over booming electronic drums, and the behind-the-keyboard vulnerable singing over stripped down music, serpenwithfeet gave to the crowd one of the most surprising shows ever, with his choirboy voice reaching new heights each time. He was doing so much talking while on piano that I was not sure he was even singing his lyrics or making up new ones, and he even picked up a poetry book a few times, reading poems from Yrsa Daley-Ward’s ‘Bone’. Although I greatly preferred the demonstrative performances with full soundtrack to the stripped-down vocalization/talking over sparse piano notes, the result was quite unusual. A highlight of the set was of course ‘Cherubim’, with Wise pointing the crowd with his cheerleader poms over an obsessive and charging tempos, singing his sensual lyrics glooming in the dark: ‘Boy, don’t take your weight from me/Don’t remove this mold from my chest’.
The entire set was exulting a rare vibe, oscillating between sacred R&B, avant-garde electronica, sensual art pop, and of course gospel, ‘You can’t take the church out of the boy’, told us the Baltimore-born artist, who effectively grew up in a religious household, with mandatory church on Sundays. If I got some Perfume Genius vibe, the show took a more flamboyant side, and It was difficult to decide if we were witnessing the most stunning thing ever, or the strangest thing ever with Wise’s vocals doing some crazy-high arias,… or both.
He made the crowd sing several times with our ‘lizard’ voices, while explaining that in New York, he sees rats all the time, whereas in LA, all he sees is ‘lizards’, and made us laugh, checking on us regularly between piano notes. At one point, the talking and laughing almost took over the show making Wise look like a preacher of a Bjork-remixed gospel, which is not far from the truth as his first EP was largely produced by Björk’s collaborator Haxan Cloak.
It was a messy set (like the title of his song), constantly interrupted by laughs and talking, but ending with an intense choir from the crowd over ‘Bless ur Heart’… everyone was expecting an encore, but he never came back. Why would he? Serpent had all his feet out, he was a church queen, high-jacking the gospel with sexually-charged lyrics and an angelic high-pitched voice
bless ur heart