Rhye’s Mike Milosh wanted everything just so Thursday at Schubas. He had the club announce a couple of times before his set began that he was not fond of fans “speaking loudly" or exiting and entering while he performed.
It wasn’t exactly a warm welcome, but Milosh’s preciousness had a purpose: his mood-setting music sometimes barely rises above a whisper. The fans complied with the ground rules, and Rhye rewarded their attentiveness by making every note count.
The group’s excellent debut album, “Woman,” has drawn comparisons to quiet-storm R&B, and Milosh was initially characterized as a Sade sound-alike before reviewers knew his identity. The Canadian electro-soul vocalist collaborated with Danish producer Robin Hannibal on the album. But Hannibal doesn’t tour, so Milosh has retooled the songs for the road, with a six-piece band including a small string section.
The Milosh-Hannibal production places a premium on subtlety and spaciousness, and its chief attraction is Milosh’s delicate, upper-register voice and marvelous restraint both as a singer and lyricist. “Woman” is an album about obsession, seduction and erotic longing that never tips over into explicitness.
It’s understated, but not static. As Rhye demonstrated Thursday, the songs can work on the dancefloor as well as in the bedroom. Sparse drumming and staccato bass lines kept hips shimmying and heads bobbing on “Last Dance” and the long coda to “Open.” Strings and keyboards injected color and counterpoint melodies. The musicians underlined the craftsmanship in the songs and stretched them out: a trombone solo in “Last Dance,” the keyboard vamping in “Major Minor Love” with Milosh scatting humorous commentary.
Milosh’s voice was as good as advertised. A few weeks earlier at the South by Southwest Music Conference in Austin, Texas, Rhye’s show was marred by technical difficulties. On that night, the singer had to battle. At Schubas, there were no distractions and his vocal lines flowed with a finesse and precision that felt effortless. At times the songs were telescoped down to five voices wordlessly harmonizing, or the sound of fingers snapping. For these moments, Milosh should add stained-glass windows to his list of demands, because he made the club feel like a chapel.
Nearly an hour into the performance, the singer apologized for calling it a night. “We don’t have any more songs,” he said.
“It’s hard just to watch things slip away,” he sang before making his exit. “Everything’s so temporary/I should have known.” The instruments dropped out, until only a few voices could be heard harmonizing in the near darkness. Then, silence.
Rhye set list Thursday at Schubas:
1 Instrumental intro
3 3 Days
4 The Fall
5 Shed Some Blood
6 Last Dance
7 Major Minor Love
10 It's Over