Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Review + Photos + Set List: She and Him strike sleepy AM Gold at the Uptown, Monday, August 31

Posted By on Tue, Aug 31, 2010 at 9:12 AM

click to enlarge Zooey Deschanel
  • Zooey Deschanel

The musical chemistry of Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward may garner comparisons to Johnny Cash and June Carter; but anyone who's seen She and Him play live knows that the duo feels more like a generous older brother and his beautiful kid sister.

A moment during the final riffs of the band's encore, "Roll Over Beethoven," illustrated the duo's dynamic perfectly. Deschanel and Ward shared the keyboard in the furious climax of Chuck Berry's classic song. When Ward finished masterfully pounding the upper half of the piano, he slammed his fingers on it, and walked away. As he strutted across the stage, he suddenly turns and gestures his hands outwards to Deschanel. Isn't she beautiful? It's all her, the gesture said. Deschanel may have been out front, singing tunes in her suburban drawl and jimmying the tambourine, but M. Ward was calling the shots. She and Him's performance last night was his show.

The first surprise of the night, frankly, was Deschanel's voice. She didn't have the low husk of someone singing for the first time, like she did in Elf (when Ward first noticed her voice), or even later, on the duo's first collaborations on She and Him's Volume One. At times, her seasoned alto echoed through the Uptown with glints of the howling force of Neko Case, or the low-slung purr of Patsy Cline. This killed off any claim that She and Him is another vanity project for an actress: Deschanel certainly has a reason to be on stage, even without a camera tracking her beautiful face. (The first belting notes on her first solo song -- the cabaret sorrow of "Take It Back" -- was hair-raising, even without the beautiful glow of the Uptown's shadowy blue lights.) 

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M. Ward didn't chime in with his voice -- audibly, at least -- until the fifth song of the band's set. His softly textured voice had the snuggly warmth of a heap of freshly laundered sheets, adding a gruff texture to Deschanel's silky smooth harmonies. Ward's guitar lines had just as much attitude as Deschanel's vocals, and his songs -- like "Rave On" -- were sunny spots in the band's sleepy, golden roster of tunes. Despite the fact that Ward faded into the background for most of the set -- thanks, in part, to some ridiculously low lighting on stage -- it was clear that Ward was leading the ensemble like a conductor with his fiery guitar licks.

A host of seasoned session musicians, including a rhythm guitarist from Kansas, draped and obscured Deschanel's silky voice like a very expensive dress. A lazy, twangy sound filled in the background of She and Him's tunes with an instrumental haze. (Whether or not this cloud of sound was intentional, however, was another question.) To put it bluntly: "The sound mix makes it sound like a high school talent show," my friend remarked. 

Even after a sound guy fiddled around with some wires behind the booth, the band still sounded as though they were underwater. (And not in an artful, emulating-The-Graduate suburban despair sort of underwater; it was as though She and Him was literally drenched in soggy waves of reverb.) It was also awkward when Ward asked twice for the disco ball to be turned on, and the light guys politely ignored him. "We'll just use our imaginations," he conceded. 
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Despite the rousing jam of an encore, the moment that She and Him truly struck magic came during the middle of the set, when the band vacated the stage and Deschanel and Ward stood alone. "We're about to share an intimate moment with you," Deschanel crooned, before the two launched into a string of covers: Smokey Robinson's "You Really Got A Hold On Me," the Beach Boys' "Wouldn't It Be Nice," and a She and Him original: "Brand New Shoes."
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The simplicity of Deschanel and Ward's voices and the striking (and refreshing, at this point) minimalism of Ward's nimble finger pickings made for an oddly powerful pairing that silenced the entirety of the Uptown. The crowd was starstruck -- but, they were starstruck for all the right reasons.

Critics' Bias: I don't love Zooey Deschanel -- her spacey on-screen charms mystify me -- but I think that M. Ward's solo work is downright transcendent.

Overheard in the Crowd: A very, very pregnant lady sharing her due date. (Which I swear to God was sometime in September.) Pregnant lady, I usually frown upon you when I spy you at concerts, but if you've gotta go vibrate some tuneage through your womb, you couldn't have picked a more baby-friendly show than She and Him. 

Random Notebook Dump: "The echo of Zooey's voice had as much tangible presence as Peter Pan's shadow." It's an awful simile, but it's true. 

*Setlist:
 
I Was Made for You
 
Black Hole
 
Thieves
 
Lingering Still
 
Me and You
 
Take It Back 
 
Home
 
Ridin' In My Car
 
Over It Over Again
 
Rave On (M. Ward song)
 
Change is Hard
 
I Thought
I Saw Your Face Today
You Really Got A Hold On Me
Wouldn't It Be Nice
Brand New Shoes
You Turn Me On I'm A Radio
Magic Trick (M. Ward song)
 
Gonna Get Along Without You Now
 
In the Sun
 
Don't Look Back
 
This is Not a Test 
 
Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?

Sweet Darlin' 

Encore
Fools Rush In
 
Roll Over Beethoven 

*If I'm not mistaken, this is almost the exact same set list -- plus a couple of acoustic covers -- that She and Him played last night in St. Louis. If I'm missing a song, fill 'er in in the comments.

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