I made my way over to the Pitchfork day party on Thursday March 14th to see two very specific acts with two very unique voices. Rhye is an L.A. based soft-rock project featuring lead vocals from Canadian singer Mike Milosh and Autre Ne Veut is the stage name of Brooklyn’s indie R&B vocal powerhouse Arthur Ashin. Both acts are defined by the vocal performances of their leading men and I was very curious to see how both sets would play out, especially since they were playing the same stage back-to back.

Rhye was the first act to take the stage that day and it was immediately clear by the look on the band member’s faces that they were having some technical difficulties with the sound.  It sounded fine out in the crowd but Milosh’s frustrated motions to the sound man implied that he had trouble hearing himself and his band members. He pre-emptively apologized for being tired after a long flight and maybe not sounding up to par but his pardons ended up being completely unnecessary.

Once things really kicked off, Rhye absolutely killed it. Milosh’s vocals are pretty impressive on record but are something else entirely live. When Rhye were slightly more mysterious about their identity, many were under the impression that the lead vocalist was a woman. I’ll admit, even watching it happen right in front of me, it’s still sort of disorienting to hear these vocals come from a man. The understated beauty and soft quality of Milosh’s voice has a sort of motherly quality that completely envelopes the listener. I was mesmerized. The backing band was great too (their fedora wearing violinist pulled off an awesome solo, oozing cool despite his choice of headwear).  An early, sleepy afternoon set would have been just fine for a band like Rhye but it’s clear that even on their off days, these guys are absolute talents.

Immediately after Rhye on the same stage was Autre Ne Veut. After a lengthy set-up and extensive sound check (they rolled out a pretty nice grand piano that never ended up getting played),the opening strings of his monster single “Play by Play” immediately got the crowd going. Accompanied by a female vocalist and a talented drummer, Ashin ran through a quick set composed entirely of songs from his just-released sophomore album Anxiety. It was clear almost immediately that the recent string of live performances had taken a toll on Ashin’s vocal chords. He was sounding really raspy and tired throughout his set and at times struggling to hit the high notes. Still, the emotion on his face and the energy in his body movements signified that he was giving it his all and as he ran through crowd pleasers like “Counting” and “Ego Free, Sex Free” the crowd grew more and more responsive to his particular brand of indie R&B.

Watching these two sets one after the other demonstrated two interesting sides of the SXSW coin. On one side we had Mike Milosh of Rhye who came through with crisp, untouched vocals that sounded more pristine live than they did on record. On the other side we had Arthur Ashin aka Autre Ne Veut whose rough-around-the-edges vocal performance actually added a layer of emotion and humanity that you could only get from seeing him live. Both performances were true examples of vocal mastery and I’m grateful I got to see these two acts paired together.

By Nathan Kerce

(Autre Ne Veut photo credit: Madeline Hassett)