Jhung, Ravyn Lenae Stun in Mandel Hall for MAB’s Fall Concert

Student artist Jhung opened for R&B singer Ravyn Lenae, whose live band and sultry vocals brought real groove to Mandel Hall

By Noah Glasgow, Deputy Arts Editor

UChicago’s Major Activities Board (MAB) kicked off their 2022–23 event slate with a double-billed show at the end of the fall quarter. University of Chicago student artist Jhung, whose indie-pop tracks recall Khai Dreams and Still Woozy, opened for Chicago-based R&B sensation Ravyn Lenae. Playing with a three-piece band, Lenae ditched her more experimental and electronic sound for live groove and unbelievable rhythm. 

The crowd was on its feet from the start of Jhung’s opening set, and it was clear that more than a few of the assembled faces were his friends and student supporters. But Jhung was quick to establish his grip over the crowd with light, sample-heavy and pop-infused tunes about the same themes that every university student grapples with: breakups and relationships rushed into, mistakes overthought and relived to oblivion. (He was careful—wisely—to keep anything too academic out of the picture.) 

“Real ones know I only have nine minutes of released content,” Jhung joked just a few songs into a set slated to last twenty minutes. He brought out fellow Chicago-based artist J.Y.N. for a sneak peek of an unreleased song, a four-on-the-floor dance number that kept the student audience moving. A live three-piece band joined Jhung for two songs, including an indie-fied rendition of Drake’s “Passionfruit.”  

Red lights and a wailing guitar announced the entrance of Lenae. With a three-piece band behind her, Lenae put the rhythm back in rhythm and blues. Her released music—including 2022’s Hypnos, her first full LP—is highly produced, unafraid of a bit of electronic experimentation even as it takes its cues from the mixing-board backtracks of early-2000s hip-hop and R&B. But Lenae swapped her electronic soundscape for a rock- and blues-heavy set that made the most of live performance. It’s clear that Lenae is an artist who feels at home in the studio and on the stage, who understands what plays well through headphones and what will bring a live audience to their feet.  

Lenae kept her live arrangements dynamic. There was an angry, drum- and guitar-heavy rendition of “Skin Tight,” the singer’s latest hit, which shed the light guitar and silky vocals that dominate the original track. Lenae announced that—since she was in Chicago—she was going to “do a little house,” leaping into a groovy dance number that this reviewer couldn’t identify by name. If there was one problem with the night, it was that the sound mix was heavy on bass and drums with both Jhung and Lenae, which made it a little tricky to catch the lyrics. 

Lenae brought her tight vocals and refined girlishness to Mandel Hall. Songs ended with a light giggle or kicked off with vocal loop-de-loops. Throughout the night Lenae flipped from an impressive falsetto down to a more sultry alto with ease. And it was clear from the outset that the variety in her arrangements and styles was a treat for the band, who played with a joy and freedom you don’t always see in a backup band. Playing with your guitar behind your head might be a practiced gimmick, but the keyboard player throwing his entire body up and down in the heat of the groove felt uncommon, unplanned, and infectiously joyful.  

Lenae’s music has arrived to rave reviews in the music industry—garnering a “best new music” earmark from Pitchfork and collaborations with artists like Smino and Steve Lacy. If her technical prowess and ingenuity has impressed critics, her live energy impressed me. Her groove was a real treat—a rare splash of variety in Mandel Hall.