Rhye had us all in a swoon in the Spiegeltent as part of Auckland Arts Festival 2019 last night. The switch from an earlier performance of cabaret/burlesque Blanc de Blanc had raised the temperature in the venue. This seemed quite apt given the sensuous treat to come. A bubbly 20’s to 30’s something crowd filled out the arena style space and welcomed the group warmly to the stage. Surprising that this is RHYE’s first visit to Auckland yet they were welcomed like old friends. It’s amazing how connected an audience can feel via earphones, almost two million hits alone for this band on Spotify every month.
This is music for lovers and it was going to be one hot date night.
Much of the evening’s material was drawn from Rhye’s critically acclaimed 2013 debut album Woman and their second album released last year, Blood. Michael Milosh’s vocals have a soft-focus beauty and sensuality that intoxicates. And wrapped up in the bon-bon of the Spiegeltent, a venue that feels like a Victorian bordello, it felt like we were invited into a boudoir of sound.
We were hypnotised, by the third song the pleading of Please, Milosh had the crowd clapping the beat. Much of Rhye’s first album was created on MIDI and programmes but gratifyingly, this live set was with real drums, bass, guitar as well as cello and violin. A rotation of players appear in the band’s live shows, the calibre of playing last night was impressive. The recorded songs were let loose on stage into bigger sounds and gave the instrumentalists scope for shining solos.
... An androgynous sound that has the softness of velvet and a range of expression that goes from murmuring to moans. Lyrics are clearly not the deal, it’s timbre which is RHYE’s strongest suit.
Woven into the spacious R&B sound were layers of almost classical cello and violin, jazz keys rippling, the funkiest swagger you ever heard from bass, and some fabulous guitar solos complete with a plethora of pedal effects. And the instrumentalists had a lot of fun on stage, smiles from the violinist won her extra applause. A big mention needs to go to the sound set up which gave the whole band unity and clarity but didn’t swallow the vocals, seriously a big bravo there.
Clearly, Rhye wear their sensual reputation on their sleeve, mid programme Milosh asked for the lighting to be lowered and by their song Taste, he asked for the lights to be extinguished altogether. Thus wrapped in intimate darkness, the audience was asked to shhhhhhhh and bring the focus back to whisper closeness.
The really memorable part of Rhye is the extraordinary vocals of Michael Milosh. An androgynous sound that has the softness of velvet and a range of expression that goes from murmuring to moans. Lyrics are clearly not the deal, it’s timbre which is RHYE’s strongest suit. The final song of the evening Song for You opened with his sublime vocals, simple guitar and light keys, rhythm marked with finger clicks. Beautifully opened out into the band joining in unison vocals “why don’t you tell me what you need”. Then the crowd joining with “I feel your heart baby, I feel your pain” to bring the evening to an end.
The Auckland Arts Festival have programmed astutely here. Rhye captured the younger market and filled the bill with an offbeat R&B artist not seen in New Zealand before. It’s points of difference you want in a good arts festival, but it’s also a performance that will attract a range of audiences and maybe keep them interested for festivals to come. Congratulations on ticking this one so nicely.