Describing Rhye as enigmatic is somewhat of an understatement. In fact the popularity is kind of puzzling. Yet here they are playing a sold-out show at San Francisco’s Bimbo’s 365 Club to an eclectic mix of concertgoers, surprisingly diverse in age and style, and no one really quite knows who the band is. They are so mysterious in fact, that a baffled woman stopped me in the restroom and asked, “I’m just curious, but how exactly did you hear about this band?”
Up until this national tour, nothing online could really tell you what they looked like; before the release of their debut album, Woman, in early March, their only internet presence was two high quality, rather sexy and erotic videos on YouTube in which they don’t personally appear. For some time, their names weren’t even released. In fact, when the band took the stage, a woman gasped and exclaimed a surprised “whatttt???” when the lead singer turned out to be, well…a man.
Los Angeles-based Rhye is an all-male duo comprised of singer Mike Milosh (whose voice has repeatedly been compared to the smooth vocal stylings of Sade) and Danish songwriter/producer Robin Hannibal. Hannibal doesn’t even take the stage; Milosh is instead supported by a backup band comprised of drums, keyboards, bass, electric cello, violin and a trombone. It’s a talented collection of musicians, clearly capturing the immensely multiple layered compositions of what is an intricate album of songs. And yet even more surprising next to this air of mystery is a band that spends the entire show laughing and joking and referring to each other by first name.
The track “3 Days” made an early appearance in the set, with its opening lines “I’m famished / So I’ll eat your minerals / Like a rabid beast at a foolish feast” setting the tone for the sexy, enraptured theme of love songs for the evening. Online hit “The Fall” and the sexually charged “Last Dance” followed shortly thereafter, with its trombone and what Milosh described as a “nasty” bass line. Rhye’s big hit “Open” was a crowd pleaser, especially with its sentimental opening and dedication to Milosh’s wife, actress Alexa Nikolas, who Milosh says inspired the lyrics to the song and whom was celebrating her birthday that evening. After the crowd joined in on singing happy birthday, Milosh launched into “Open,” forgetting the lines to the second verse.
“I forgot the lyrics because I am thinking of her,” said Milosh to a cheering and hollering crowd, adding, “I just keep thinking, ‘I hope she likes what I am doing up here.’”
While the seated show fit the Rhye ambiance perfectly, opener Nosaj Thing could have benefited from an open floor, as DJ Jason Chung spun some very danceable electronica and instrumental hip-hop. Chung delivered a set filled with beats and samples that sounded organic and ethereal at the same time, creating what could have been a soundtrack to some uneasy dreams. Also hailing from Los Angeles, the musician mentioned his love for Rhye’s music and Milosh’s previous solo work. The fandom was mutual, as Milosh watched Nosaj Thing’s entire opening set from a table in the front row.
Playing a sold-out set and sold out of vinyl records (only 30 CDs were left to sell for the night), Rhye stuck around to meet the buzzing fans after their show. In an industry where we often know so much about musicians from their blogs, Twitter accounts or YouTube, Rhye’s popularity, despite being relatively unknown, is refreshing. It seems mystery and surprise are still things that move us—and in the end you can’t stop peoples’ curiosity for seeking good music.
Catch Rhye on tour:
4/15/13 Chicago, IL @ Schubas
4/13/13 Toronto, Canada @ The Great Hall
4/14/13 Montreal, Canada @ Le Cabaret du Mile End
4/16/13 Cambridge, MA @ The Sinclair
4/17/13 New York, NY @ La Poisson Rouge
4/18/13 Washington, D.C. @ Sixth & I Historic Synagogue
4/20/13 Philadelphia, PA @ World Cafe Live
5/10/13 Los Angeles, CA @ El Rey Theatre