Anyone who has spent time with serpentwithfeet’s album soil would not go to his concert at Lille Vega expecting to laugh, but there was an abundance of laughter throughout the performance, even amidst his self-declared grief songs.
In his live performance, Josiah Wise, the man behind serpentwithfeet, emerges as a story teller and raconteur, not just in his elastic facial expressions but in his ad libs (both subtle and not at all subtle). His performance is a mix of him hitting play on his laptop and singing along to a backing track and quiet moments behind his keyboard. It’s the latter of the two that feels most special, when all of the production has been stripped away and his restraint comes through. Even as he skips along the entirety of his tremendous vocal range, he refrains from blasting the audience away with volume. We know he can do it — he does during the songs with a backing track — but instead he gives us softness and intimacy.
It’s also these quiet portions for the set that have the most of Wise’s unexpected humor. “fragrance” is reframed as a support group of ex-boyfriends and “wrong tree” somehow spins off into him backing up his point that it’s difficult to listen the first time by asking any teachers in the audience to confirm this all while singing in his operatic range (he also takes the opportunity to affirm that, despite coming on stage in a backpack, he’s not going camping).
This light and disarmingly beautiful absurdity makes it possible for Wise to pull off a foot-stomping call and response. Riffing on “whisper,” he implores the audience to repeat “not all breaking here” back to him, loud enough for your boo in another country or your favorite aunt that you get drinks with who freezes up on certain topics to hear.
It’s a brief 45 minutes later that the set winds up and sends us heading home before 22:00 on a school night. It’s an abrupt on-with-the-lights-don’t-even-think-of-asking-for-an-encore. It’s an encore we would have asked for. And it leaves us wanting so much more, and imagining all the directions this show could possibly go in.