Rhye had us eating out of the palm of its hand.
Only being familiar with Rhye from their sultry, subtle first album, Woman, I was unsure what to expect from a live show, but I didn’t think it would pair so well with as raucous a funk outfit as opening act Boulevards.
Jamil Rashad, who performs as Boulevards, is a rowdy, charismatic funketeer with a singular reservoir of charm and enthusiasm that, at first blush, is a little terrifying. For an opener, he’s got great energy, exciting songs and, frankly, an appalling amount of sex appeal. You know, the polar opposite of the quiet, cooing bedroom pop Rhye is so adept at. I went in with an open mind, but a dude emphatically shaming his largely dance-phobic crowd into a “Soul Train” line came as something of a shock. He was more “Chadwick Boseman as a James Brown caricature” than James Brown, but it was a fun, if curious, way to begin a Monday night.
But the thunderous presence of Rashad’s full backing band, it turns out, wasn’t that far a cry from what Rhye had in store. Once a duo featuring Quadron-producer Robin Hannibal, Rhye has since metamorphosed into a solo project headlined by singer/songwriter Milosh with the support of the backing band from the first album’s tour. Now promoting recently released sophomore effort, Blood, Rhye is a live attraction unafraid to make drastic departures from their sleek, hushed record aesthetic for something more bold and boisterous.
Once Rhye took the stage, the band’s moody purple lighting bathed them in murky shadows, allowing the music to stand ahead of the band themselves. Opening with a semi-faithful interpretation of debut LP cut “3 Days,” they set the tone with Milosh’s soft, mutable vocals and casually danceable pace. The crowd ate it up, with many audience members reacting with spontaneous yelping at the key changes Milosh would dispense effortlessly. He’s truly a vocal chameleon who somehow seems to imply Sade, Kate Bush and a litany of other incongruous singers, all emanating from the same rakish wisp of a man.
From there, the set began to alternate between ooey-gooey bedroom numbers—which toyed with the stillness and heightened the room’s sexual tension—and more robust stompers, like the strangely powerful rendition of “Major Minor Love” that came off like a Fleetwood Mac-indebted rock freak-out. Even the quieter tunes were brought to life with electric guitar flourishes on “Open” or the Chic-inspired bass work on “Last Dance.” While the band showed off varying degrees of crackling, rambunctious energy, it was still Milosh’s voice that elicited shrieks of delight and involuntary “Yassss”es from the audience.
I felt myself the most swept away by Rhye’s power between the infectious take on Blood track “Count to Five” and the undeniably religious experience that was their disco-inflected version of “Taste,” a performance that felt like Daft Punk hijacking a quiet storm radio station. I was so caught up in the thrill of it all, I had forgotten how badly I wanted to hear them play “The Fall.” Before they eventually did, Milosh asked the techs to dim the lights by mewing, “little bit darker…” into the microphone. I was near the back of the venue by this time, so I could overhear that same tech frustrated as the song began: “He never said when to turn them back up!”
It didn’t really matter. By that point, Rhye had us eating out of the palm of its hand. The lights could have stayed off forever for all I cared. The track was so soul-nourishing, even more potent and hypnotic than it ever was on wax. It was in those moments I realized how much more versatile and fascinating this project has become in Hannibal’s absence. We can only hope the next record can come close to capturing how exciting a live band they’ve become.