Jason Chung, who records as Nosaj Thing, performs at the Masonic Hall at… (Jay Boileau / Courtesy Hollywood…)
At the cavernous Masonic Hall within the Hollywood Forever Cemetery on Monday night, a secretive sextet of musicians called Rhye gathered before a group of seated, eerily silent worshipers. The hundreds of attendees were barred from photographing the performance of this ritualistic music of romance, and adding another layer of mystery, backlit red stage lights rendered the musicians' features imperceptible, darkened by shadows. A few clusters of well-placed candles flickered.
For a group so willfully oblique -- it's done only a handful of performances -- Rhye has received much attention. Its debut album, “Woman,” is as gorgeous as it is assured, and the band made it even more so Monday. Not only do the musicians understand many nuances of soul and desire, but they can also braid them with melody and rhythm to create single, intricate strands.
Most writing on Rhye, which was formed by singer-producer Mike Milosh and producer Robin Hannibal in Los Angeles in 2010, acknowledges two characteristics: that on first glance, they sound a lot like Sade, the Nigerian-English chanteuse whose wet hot R&B transcends race, border and gender; and that Milosh’s velveteen falsetto seems to comes from the body of a woman.
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Both observations, while reductive, are true, but in the Masonic Hall, Rhye illustrated a vision that busted through such superficialities. On the driving “Last Dance,” the group -- which at various times featured keyboard, bass, percussion, electric cello, trombone, violin and vocals -- revealed itself to be a practiced groove band tapping into a universal rhythm. The performance recalled the hand-made funk of “Off the Wall”-era Michael Jackson.
"Major Minor Love,” one of the gentlest songs of the evening, suggested Steely Dan, a quiet meditation on the toils of emotion that featured a whistle solo by Milosh -- eventually augmented with the sampled sound of a bird singing in unison. If that sounds cheesy on paper, in reality, it was a witty nod to Milosh’s skills.
The highlight was an expanded version of “Hunger,” which Rhye turned into a post-disco stomper replete with an explosive trombone solo, freewheeling violin runs and enough percussive energy to power the Studio 54 dance floor.
The opening artist was Los Angeles experimental beat producer Jason Chung, who records as Nosaj Thing. He offered 45 minutes of meticulously crafted computer music, channeled through effects boxes and mixed in real time. The producer, who has made beats for high-profile rappers including Kendrick Lamar, Kid Cudi and Trinidad James, presented work from his new album, "Home."
And though he's a one-man operation who in performance was confined to his mixer and gear, the tones he crafted seemed created for such an ornate room, and made the experience of hearing his warm tones and sampled, echo-y voices positively mystical.
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