“To make tonight’s show a more intimate experience, the artist has asked that you refrain from taking photos, talking or opening and closing the venue doors during the performance. We will also be closing the bar at the back of the venue in the next few minutes for the same reason, so please purchase any drinks you might want during the show now. Thank you.” That was the announcement made shortly before Rhye took the stage on a rainy Thursday night in April at Schubas. In case you hadn’t heard the message, there were also signs posted all over the venue that said “The artist requests no photos during tonight’s performance.” As such, there is/are no photo(s) accompanying this show review. Ironically, there are very few photos of the duo known as Rhye in existence, live or otherwise. They’re a band somewhat built on mystery, at least in the sense that they’d rather let the music speak for itself rather than bombard you with other associations to attach to it. For their live performance, the last thing you should have been doing was staring at the stage through the screen of your smartphone. That creates an invisible wall between the artist and the audience member. The goal is to devote your full attention to what’s coming out of the speakers, and it’s similarly distracting if you run to the restroom, chat with a friend or go order more drinks. Rhye make intimate, bedroom music that’s earned plenty of comparisons to Sade and The xx, and it’s difficult to achieve the intended effect if your head is somehwhere else.
So from my vantage point towards the front of the venue, everyone complied with the band’s instructions (except that one guy standing next to me, who snapped a very quick photo during the final song). Was the show better as a result? I’d say absolutely. As much as I try to respect and give all my attention to the stage, most shows I snap a few photos and might grab a drink mid-set if I’m close to the bar. With a hushed room and nobody standing in front of me with their phone or digital camera in the air, I didn’t get annoyed a single time during the full 50 minute set, which is an accomplishment. Much more accomplished however was what happened on stage. The lights were set to a minimum level, to the point where an exit sign next to the stage was the brightest thing in the room, and there were lit candles everywhere from atop amps to the stage floor. It was a wonder nobody kicked one over. Rhye is the duo of Mike Milosh and Robin Hannibal, but in a live setting it’s only Milosh with five backing musicians because Hannibal doesn’t tour. It made for a fascinating set up, primarily because the songs on the band’s debut album Woman are so minimalist in their construction. To have six people on stage for that ultimately meant expanding what was already there. That wound up applying to not only the overall sound, but the length of the compositions as well. “Last Dance” got a fun little trombone solo thrown in during the bridge that not only got the crowd riled up, but the rest of the band too. Milosh signaled his keyboard player to keep playing at the end of “Major Minor Love,” which he did for a bit while the rest of the band looked on amused. The strings and drums each got their own times to shine during the bridge of “Open” as well, really hammering home the point Milosh made between songs mid-set: that hearing extended or different takes on songs you’re familiar with brings them to life in new and interesting ways. It keeps the audience and the band on their toes, which is really what you want out of every live show.
Not everything about Rhye’s set worked. It felt like there was a key misstep relatively early in the set during “The Fall,” one of the band’s key singles and most upbeat tracks. What could have turned into a small dance party instead stumbled when the tempo of the song purposely slowed to a crawl for its midsection. Basically, one minute there was a good groove going, the next it was a stoic ballad, and the next the crowd was hit with smelling salts as the pace returned to normal. Why such a choice was made is a mystery, though it’s likely for the same reasons the extended jam sessions on other tracks happened. Everything else, including “3 Days,” “Shed Some Blood” and “Hunger,” were perfectly situated in the set and sounded fantastic. Because they’ve only got one album, things started to get a bit dicey towards the end. There was no opening band, which also helped give everyone the feeling like there should be so much more to go. Alas, after about 40 minutes Milosh candidly apologized to the crowd as they cheered for more, explaining that they were out of songs and were going to have to wrap things up without an encore. Technically speaking he was wrong, because the band never played “One of Those Summer Days” or the title track “Woman,” but to be fair those are also the slowest and weakest tracks on the debut album. They closed things out with the song “It’s Over,” which is actually a song off of Milosh’s 2006 solo record Meme, which I’m sure most if not all of the crowd hadn’t heard before. It was a perfectly lovely ballad, but also felt a little out of place and lacking the pure beauty and charm that the Rhye tracks have going for them.
For a show that was so restrictive/demanding in its requests for audience behavior, it’d be easy to think that you weren’t allowed to have any fun or that it might be difficult to have fun given the circumstances. It really was the band’s candor and Milosh’s moderately comedic banter between songs that put everyone more at ease and helped turn the show from stoic intimacy to playful intimacy. If you ask me, that’s the best kind of intimacy. And that voice! There were audible gasps from the crowd the moment Milosh first started to sing, because it seemed so unlikely that the voice you hear on the record could be replicated with such ease. He made it all look and sound pretty effortless, and beyond that the rest of the band would occasionally add five-part harmonies that made perfect use of the venue, the atmosphere and the quiet, attentive crowd. It’s hard to believe that this band can sound so great and so professional when they’ve only played a handful of live shows in their existence. With any luck, there will be hundreds more to come, complete with fans who understand that even music’s most intimate moments can be charming and great when performed live so long as you’re respectful and attentive of the material.
Buy Rhye’s debut album Woman from Amazon
Shed Some Blood
Major Minor Love
It’s Over (Milosh cover)