Rhye sounded sensual at Massey Hall, but their music lacked climax

The sold-out hometown return for Mike Milosh’s R&B outfit felt like all lead-up and no payoff, but Hannah Georgas impressed in her opening set


RHYE with HANNAH GEORGAS at Massey Hall, Monday, March 5. Rating: NNN


Opening for Rhye on Monday night at Massey Hall, Hannah Georgas got things started off right with an effusive set of pop songs that were the perfect amount of off-kilter to set conventions gloriously askew.

The sampled Joseph Shabason sax squalls from set highlight Waste sounded massive in Massey, as if Georgas was backed by the Bomb Squad. The sense of fun and playfulness continued as the singer/songwriter and her two-piece band treated the audience to a Eurythmics cover, which fell in place with her own material and suited her vocal range. (I didn’t catch the song’s name, but it’s set to appear on a covers EP due out in April.) On record, her material can sometimes sound stuffy, but live Georgas is a force.

When Rhye’s Mike Milosh and his seven-piece band took the stage for the sold-out show, the backdrop was lit in such a way that it looked like they stood before towering stained glass windows, giving the performance an air of religious experience.

With lyrics like “surrender to your knees” in the organ-heavy song Count To Five, Milosh intentionally blurs the lines between two different kinds of devotional music. But the performance rarely reached the reverence expected of spirituals, regardless of what kind of higher power they’re singing the gospel about. 

Ever since Chet Baker, quiet crooning has served to draw listeners in and foster a sense of intimacy. Milosh’s singing, though, wavering in extremes from perfect clarity to Michael-McDonald-cotton-mouthed unintelligibility, felt like intimacy with no payoff.

That sense of diminishing returns continued with songs like Taste, which made repeated promises that “I’ll lay you down,” yet the music never followed through, never reached a climax, Milosh’s words becoming promises he and his band didn’t keep. In more capable hands, that might have built tension, but here it just felt empty.

Despite being delivered by an incredible cast of talented players, the material rarely let the musicians dig in in gratifying ways. Most had their heads down or stared blankly as they played, which made the few times when they seemed to be enjoying themselves evident.

One of those moments came with Last Dance, a funky cut from the band’s 2013 debut album, Woman. The band members looked at each other, smiled even, and things culminated in an excellent trombone solo by Claire Courchene. It was what we had been waiting for: a song that led somewhere, one that gave the players supporting it a chance to work together in the service of something greater.  

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Jag Gundu / Massey Hall

music@nowtoronto.com | @therewasnosound

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