Rhye's Powerful Downtempo Soul Mesmerizes Webster Hall
  • THURSDAY, OCTOBER 20, 2016

  • Posted by: Ben Feit



I've been absolutely in love with Rhye's debut, and only, studio album Woman ever since I accidentally clicked on the music video for the lead track "Open." That was easily two years ago now, and I've listened to that single album countless times through without ever getting tired of it. When I took a long walk over to Webster Hall to see Rhye play last Friday, I didn't expect much more than a basic interpretation of Woman played all the way through. And I would have been absolutely fine, even thrilled, with that. What I got was decidedly different - a display of breathtaking passion and excitement from Rhye's live band.

Instead of what I thought would be a mysterious, shrouded duo, Rhye presented itself as a full band. Lead singer Milosh foregrounded a spread of keyboards, bass, drums, cello, and violin all outlined by machine fog and warm, fuzzy backlights. He himself stood next to a mini drum set, which served as the vehicle for a number of improvisations. And the band was also frequently joined by a trombone, belting out melodic hooks and jazzy solos. As far as I know, Milosh's studio counterpart and one half of Rhye, instrumentalist Robin Hannibal, was not present. No matter, the band jumped in with a stunning string intro which led into the slow, ambient "Verse."

Looking down from the balcony, I watched Milosh's voice roll over the crowd like a wave of sedation. Any remaining conversation dropped, motions slowed, and heads turned slowly to see the source. If you've ever heard Milosh sing, whether it's recorded or live, you know you've been privy to a unique aural experience. I have endless fun playing Rhye for unknowing friends and asking them to guess the gender of the singer. Milosh's androgynous croon is powerful, warm, and seductive, and its reverberation through Webster Hall was nothing short of mesmerizing. The singer's stage presence isn't necessarily dominant - he's not going to lose his jacket and hit his best Jagger - but his voice demands attention and awe, especially when coming from a simple figure on a dark stage in a small venue.

With only one album out, Rhye effectively had a catalogue of 10 songs to work with for their set. The band actually played just 8 of those songs from Woman by my count, excluding "One of Those Summer Days" and "Woman" from the setlist. Meanwhile, the 8 remaining tracks were interspersed with the incredible energy of solos from the string section, trombone, and keyboards. Milosh joined on keyboards and drums several times, rarely remaining empty-handed during instrumental segments. The band created stripped-down renditions of tracks like "3 Days" and "Major Minor Love," the latter of which ended with an incredible cello solo - not a phrase I thought I would ever use, but one that I feel comfortable with after watching this cellist look like his arm was about to fly off with his bow still in hand. The crowd understandably went just a little apeshit for the hits "Open" and "The Fall," both of which sounded wonderful while remaining quite similar to the studio versions. And the more upbeat grooves of "Last Dance" and "Hunger" saw a few people breaking free from the trance of Milosh's vocal sedative to start dancing. The balcony crowd came alive during "Hunger," which would have been fun, but anyone familiar with Webster Hall's balcony knows that it shakes with the movement of the crowd. Not necessarily a comforting feeling.

Amidst the Woman classics, Milosh and the band actually played three new tracks that are supposed to appear on a new Rhye project. There's been no official news about a second album, but Milosh has been busy and productive with solo projects since Woman. Apparently, some of that work is now being channeled into Rhye's follow-up - Milosh told the crowd a new record was currently "evolving." The band played three separate new tracks. The first was a jazzy tune marked by catchy hooks from the trombone. The other two were slower compositions, with somber string compositions and a gloomy tone in Milosh's vocals. The crowd responded well to all three, even with the few obnoxious individuals who talked through the quiet third new track. Milosh seemed excited to share, but also made a point to mention that if they played all the new material, they couldn't come back soon. I was on board immediately - hell, I would have shut down the show immediately if it meant I got the second album at that instant.

In the meantime, Rhye's live show brought life to an album that's now over 3 years old. Woman was never dead, but if their intermittent touring is meant to strategically build up excitement for a second album, it's a good approach. Rhye's band oozed energy and passion behind Milosh's powerful voice, and the crowd ate it up. I know I did. There's definitely more to come from Rhye, and it seems like it'll be a big step forward after a long gap in discography (after all, Frank Ocean took 4 years to follow up his debut). In the meantime, keep listening to Woman - I promise you won't get tired of it. Listen above and check out the last few upcoming tour dates below.

Nov 04 MTV Presents REC Rotterdam, Netherlands
Nov 12 North Beach Bandshell Miami Beach, FL
Nov 13 State Theatre Saint Petersburg, FL
Nov 14 Terminal West Atlanta, GA
Jan 28 Teatro Angela Peralta Mexico City, Mexico

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