Show Review: Rhye @ Paradise Rock Club 7.31.16
by Terence Cawley (Biology), published August 2nd 2016
photos by Emily Arntsen (English)
Of all the members of this decade’s nebulous indie-R&B movement, Rhye hews most closely to the sound and style of the genre’s forebears. The duo’s 2013 album Woman is a musical expression of romantic love, passionate yet tastefully restrained, with no avant-garde production or dark subject matter to dilute their suave sensuality. Music this intimate isn’t always conducive to a memorable concert experience, so Rhye were wise to bring a full band to the Paradise to stretch their songs into new shapes.
I arrived late to the venue, sadly missing opener Grammar and catching only the last few songs of New York two-piece Overcoats’ set. The first song I heard was a cover of “Cherry Wine” by Hozier, with Hana Elion and JJ Mitchell accompanying their hushed harmonies with delicate electric guitar and some barely-there keyboard. They then put down the guitar, leaving the keyboard’s minimal, ominous beats as the only backing for the pair’s soulful vocals. Overcoats songs are beautiful, yet haunted with a gothic aura- they’re like the musical equivalent of a delicate, intricately woven spider web in an abandoned attic corner. Elion and Mitchell’s matching white dresses and tendency to sway in unison only strengthened the effect, although they broke character between songs to crack jokes and express their gratitude. One can only imagine the spell Overcoats could cast over an audience as headliners.
Five musicians, all dressed in black, took their places at keyboards, drums and electric bass, cello and violin and played a mood-setting instrumental, at the conclusion of which Rhye singer Mike Milosh, also dressed in black, walked onstage and led the band into “Verse.” Milosh’s silky-smooth vocals had an immediate effect on the crowd; to hear a voice of such seemingly effortless sensitivity and grace in headphones is one thing, but to actually hear that voice emanating from a human body right before your eyes is another, altogether more magical sensation. Milosh possessed an arresting stage presence as well; while he stayed in motion constantly, dancing, playing keyboards or tapping drumsticks on any available surface, he never seemed to truly lose himself in the music, instead maintaining a sense of cool control, as if he were holding something back. There was a magnetism to Milosh’s performance that made it hard to take your eyes off him.
With only one album to their name, Rhye were somewhat limited in their options setlist-wise. They ended up playing eight of Woman’s 10 tracks, along with two songs from a pre-Rhye Milosh solo album (which for some reason is called Meme) and a single new song, “Waste.” Milosh alluded to circumstances preventing him from debuting more new music without elucidating the nature of those circumstances, but at least there does definitely appear to be a second Rhye album in the works. “Waste” had all the elements listeners have come to expect from a Rhye song, but, like the Milosh material, there was a forlornness at its core which contrasted intriguingly with Woman’s conjugal contentment. On many of the Woman songs, the band took the outros as opportunities for extended jams, flexing their chops on rhythmic discursions which often ended up bearing little resemblance to the original tune. The raw musicality of these outros made the old songs sound fresh again (although the absence of electric guitar robbed songs like “Open” of some of their most ear-tickling hooks), and it will be interesting to hear the extent to which these new arrangements influence Rhye’s future work. For now, it’s heartening to see that, three years after Woman’s release, Rhye are still finding inspiration in its stately beauty.