RHYE at the Great Hall, Saturday (April 13). Rating: NNNN
Before Saturday night, Rhye was a mystery. Internet research reveals that a half-Canadian, half-Danish duo are the musicians behind Woman, one of this year's buzziest albums. The lead singer sounds a lot like Sade. So when a five-person, male-fronted band arrived onstage at the Great Hall, a number of fans were embarrassed to have been expecting a female songstress, and then relieved to discover that their friends had made the same assumption.
Confusion gave way to dropped jaws when Toronto-born Mike Milosh sang his first note. This was definitely the Rhye we'd been slow-jamming to for the past couple of months, but far better in person than on the record (read: our computers). Unusually, there was seating (not standing) at the venue, and the dimly lit room was illuminated by candles onstage. All this and Milosh's frankly angelic singing leant the evening a religious-experience vibe.
As Rhye moved through the songs on their only album, things that hadn't made sense suddenly did. "Alt R&B" is a term often applied to their genre-defying sound, but that was mystifying until the show, when all of a sudden Milosh's voice took on a new soulfulness that puts him in the same conversation as Prince and The Weeknd.
As well as delivering tight vocal harmonies (most notably on The Fall), the band's musicianship was flawless. The string section contained only the electric cello and a violin, but was symphonic. Milosh is a jazz aficionado, and that sensibility often turned up on the keyboards and in the bass guitar, and most notably in Last Dance and Hunger when the cello was swapped for a trombone.
Forty minutes is skimpy for a concert, as the band acknowledged more than once. "This is where it gets kind of awkward," said Milosh before the finale. "We're not going to go offstage and come back because there are actually no more songs to play." But no one left feeling shortchanged. Milosh is a still-semi-secret Toronto treasure, and seeing him intimately in this habitat felt like discovering a new species in the amazon. Rhye was adamant that no photos be taken, but the eclectic audience contained too many Toronto music players for this secret to be kept long.