PLAYING DETROIT: Rhye and Boulevards Romance El Club

COLUMNS|Playing Detroit

Rhye — the sultry bedroom R&B project of Canadian singer and multi-instrumentalist, Michael Milosh — came to Detroit’s El Club last night with special guest Boulevards. With both artists’ subject matter centered around the art of love-making, the show ended up feeling like a two-hour sex marathon, starting out hot and spicy and unwinding into a blissful embrace of sultry sweet nothings.  

Funk god Jamil Rashad, aka Boulevards, opened the show with a high-energy and heavily oiled set. The glistening performer took the stage with a demanding presence, stunner shades, and an unbuttoned, Hendrix-esque shirt. Performing songs from his latest record, Hurtown, USA, Boulevards transformed the room into a ‘70s funk palace. You didn’t have to know any of his songs to be completely enraptured in Rashad’s euphoria-inducing performance. Taking cues from Greats like James Brown, Prince, and Rick James, the Raleigh, NC native shined on tracks like “Feelings,” and “Donezo.”

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all photos by Sara Barron

“Feelings” is a synth-powered anthem about trading vices for love – or maybe, letting love take the place of a more damaging vice. Rashad’s languid, spoken-word delivery is joined by an unmistakably funk-infused voice singing, “Give me something good to feel, show me how to feel” that had even the shyest dancers with their hands in the air. For his last song, “Sanity,” Rashad jumped down from the stage and parted the sea of adoring fans, making a pathway for a soul train and hopefully rubbing some of his virtuosic dance moves (and maybe a little body oil) off on the audience.

I honestly needed a cigarette after that set, but Rhye’s voice soundtracked an even more satisfying refractory period. If Boulevards was the climax, Rhye was the seraphic, post-coital spoon sesh. Milosh’s soft, androgynous crooning was so intimate it sometimes felt like he was whispering to the audience from under the covers. Although Rhye’s most recent release, Blood, has been critiqued as a less sincere, more manufactured version of 2013’s Woman, his incredible performance sent a clear message: haters be damned.

Milosh was joined by a full band, consisting of an organ, electric violin and cello, trombone, drums, guitar and bass, and occasionally took to the drums and keys himself. While his voice translated the exact chilling luminosity heard on both records, the added instrumentation allowed for precious moments of improvisation that could only be seen live, creating even more intimacy – if that’s even possible.

The room – which was mostly attentive but upheld a light murmur of buzzed conversation in the back – came to complete silence during the violin riff that kicks off Rhye’s biggest hit, “Open.” The violin captured attention and then the band teased the crowd by holding a trance-like, bare interlude until Milosh’s sensual voice released the tension. Other standout songs were the gentle and pleading, “Please,” where Milosh hopes to heal his lover’s sadness, and “Waste,” a reflection on a painful, unsuccessful relationship – both themes that everyone in the audience could likely cling to.

The entire set felt like an extended lullaby, putting everyone in the mood to go and curl up with a lover, or wish that they could.