It’s not uncommon to hear people describe concerts as being “like church.” Many of those who have found a life outside of a church, and perhaps just as many who are still in it, find comfort in the shared experience of live music. However, it is rare for a performer to fully embrace their community in such a way that they feel like a congregation, but serpentwithfeet is hoping to change that. His open, improvised and often “collaborative” concerts play out similarly to a church service and carry as much, if not more, spiritual poignancy than can be found in any sanctuary.
Serpentwithfeet is not a performer so much as he is a conversationalist. His onstage manner is equal to that of any star comedian and he possesses enough power to make listeners shed tears of ecstasy or laughter. In the same way, no concert he performs is ever quite the same. In the tradition of gospel music, much of his show relies on the familiar structures found on his albums and imbues them with a slew of vocal and lyrical improvisations that help transform the show from a museum piece into a breathing work of art.
Upon the minute stage at the Echo, he towered like a giant, yet his presence was strangely human. Perhaps the most apt word to describe him would be messianic. Deliverance drips from his mouth and flows out of his fingertips effortlessly as he glides about the stage, his heart and mouth fully aligned, spilling out whatever wisdom may enter his soul.
His message for the show was to embrace and celebrate fragility, a theme that is dutifully bound to his core and is splayed out plainly across all of his music. That same message carries even into his voice, one of the most iconic of this era, in the way it quivers violently before shattering into highs or dropping thunderously low. The iconic voice was on full display that night as it did wild aerials across the soundscape of the bar, adding a performative and talent driven aspect to the already memorable environment.
Many performers feel content to ask audiences questions only to hear cheers and applause, but serpentwithfeet would likely be loath to count himself among those artists. His relationship with the crowd is an honest and caring one; he sees himself as a pastor or choir director rather than a celebrity. The crux of many of his songs rely upon the participation of the crowd to carry the harmony without instrumentation while his stellar voice soars into the melodies. Additionally, he speaks to the crowd on a level rather unlike most artists, choosing to read poems by Yrsa Daley-Ward that inspire him and tell the audience meaningful stories of his life instead of constructing trite, amusing anecdotes to fill dead air. It’s a place where everyone is welcome to be exactly as they are, and they are only asked to give as much as they are willing.
Church has become a word that inspires terror for many, especially those who may most closely identify with the outwardly gay, non-conforming nature of an artist like serpentwithfeet. As such, it is exceedingly satisfying to see the spirituality and format of church reclaimed by those who have been rejected by the traditional organization. This is a concert that everyone needs to see. It is a life fulfilling event that inflates the soul to bursting, and anyone who is able to attend will find themselves touched and rejuvenated by the essential experience.
bless ur heart