Back when Sean Combs was no longer Puff Daddy but not yet Diddy, the music executive sent 1,500 people an invitation for what was modestly dubbed “The Greatest Party of All-Time,” something that also happened to be an MTV Video Music Awards after-party. Included with the invitation a preposterous, two-page document – “The Party Policy” – that outlined a dress code (“Pull out the flyest shit in your closet, or have your stylist pull something for you”), standards of hygiene (men were to have clean shaves and fresh haircuts, women to be manicured and waxed), and guest admittance (“You, your man, your man’s man, your guests, childhood friend, aunt visiting from out of town, etc., will not be admitted and left outside”). At the end of all this was a postscript: “Do Not Disturb the Sexy.” This didn’t make much sense, but it wasn’t supposed to: Like the best of Combs’ sloganeering, it was simultaneously nonsensical and unforgettable.
Over a decade later, I found myself thinking back on that turn of a phrase in a historic synagogue. It was there, at Sixth & I on Thursday night, that Rhye performed songs from its lush and sensual debut, Woman, and all measures were being taken to not disturb the sexy. No photography was allowed, and even if it had been, lighting was limited to such a degree that even the best cameras would have picked up partially illuminated shadows. If not for the occasional splashes of red, blue, or green light that shot up from behind the stage, you would have thought that the venue had lost power and been forced to make do with the candles that decorated the stage. In the history of rock concerts at Sixth & I, the menorahs have never served a more functional purpose. The overall effect was to make the faces of the frontman Mike Milosh and his cast of supporting characters all but impossible to make out from the pews, as if each was giving an interview to “60 Minutes” on his former lives as a mob hitman.
Of course, this is all par for the course with Rhye, an act that has made every effort to maintain an air of mystery over its bedroom chamber pop. It’s not a novel strategy, but it is surprisingly one that doesn’t appear to be a crutch. Unlike, say, Belle & Sebastian, Rhye has emerged from the ether as a fully-formed and confident live act. Milosh has the chops that reflect his classical training and, more importantly, a stage presence to reflect a decade of industry experience. He makes little vamping moves – some hip-swerves, some handshakes – that suggest a comfortableness on stage. Perhaps that’s something that comes out with the lights nearly out. Or maybe it’s easier to imagine signing face-to-face with your lover when you don’t actually have to imagine: His wife was literally in the front row.
It also helps to have a crack squad of musicians behind you. In contrast to the “live version” of breakthrough single “The Fall” that Rhye uploaded to Youtube last fall – a stripped-down, piano rendition – Molosh’s back-up was pleasantly robust. The other half of Rhye, Robin Holland, joined him on keyboard, though you wouldn’t assume he was anything other than a session player based his contentment to quietly play. There were also live drums, a bassist, violin, and a woman who split time between trombone and electric stringed instrument. Together, the five-piece repeatedly stretched Woman‘s songs past their normally brisk three to four minute run-times. “We don’t have a whole lot of songs. We’re a new band. We’re always trying to figure out to play longer,” Milosh confessed early on. “We could play them twice. I could do a comedy routine. Or, we could just stretch out the solos.”
The band opted for the last strategy, and though it was certainly nice to let Rhye’s songs drift for longer through the spring air, it’s odd that the band didn’t consider “learn some covers” a choice for extending their performance past one hour, especially in light of the decision to tour without an opener. But, I imagine this is the result of the tour’s ad-hoc nature – most of these musicians are hired hands – and what you appears to be, more generally, a perfectionist streak in Milosh and Holland.
More so than even on record, Rhye sounds like an act destined and ready for bigger stages. It will be interestingto see if it can make that transition while remaining in the shadows, or if it will have to find new means to keep the sexy undisturbed.