She & Him, Fox Theater, May 29, 2010: You don't have to tell me that acting and singing shouldn't mix. First off, I grew up in the era that gave us chart hits by Don Johnson, Bruce Willis, and Eddie Murphy, among others (though you gotta admit that, under the right circumstances, you can kick out some serious jams with
I'm slowly starting to rethink this stance. I'm sure any qualified drama student can tell you that their curriculum often includes dance and voice lessons, along with the disciplines we more typically associate with actors. Also, it helps when the likes of Zooey Deschanel knocks my socks off, not only with both She & Him records, but also before the group's inception.
One word stuck in my mind throughout the show and afterward: winsome. I'll admit it had a lot to do with Zooey's presence, but there's more to it than her glamor. Though she was undeniably the star attraction, judging by the screams and cheers issuing from the audience when she arrived onstage, she was by no means a diva. In fact, at certain spots, you could tell she was still trying to find her stage legs and was happy to have Matt step up for solos or duets.
I like to think that I don't see bands for looks alone (anymore) and that the music ultimately brings me out. As it happens, She and Him's melding of retro twang and bubblegum pop, mixed together in an analog stew and topped with a healthy dose of reverb, suits me perfectly. I especially love how all their young fans are getting a secret education on Motown and Memphis, Broadway and the Brill Building, as well as detours to Surf City and several spots in between. Those youthful ears may not realize it now, but one day, they'll be extremely grateful for the exposure, mark my words.
I've heard people complain that She & Him is more she than him, but I have no truck with the setup, and I'll gladly take my place alongside the Philistines in lauding the female half of the duo. To tell you the truth, I've never been much of an M. Ward fan, but I love what he and Zooey create together. I have no doubt that he's behind the arrangements and the production that elevate her words and melodies. She, in turn, gives him a chance to venture outside his more brooding solo pieces and maybe even let down his hair--or in this case, grow out a mustache. That sounds like an ideal partnership to me--when the sum is greater than the parts.
The only other time I've seen She & Him was at their debut live show a few years ago (which Zooey mentioned tonight), and I can't resist comparing the two gigs. Granted, I watched much of the Great American Music Hall date from the back of the room, stealing glances of Zooey whenever the guy in front of me moved his head, so my recollections are limited. I wouldn't say She & Him is a well-oiled machine just yet, even with the addition of a full band and two backup singers (the Chapin Sisters, also the opening act). They had their lulls and can probably work on their banter, but they were visibly more confident than before. I liked the new, slicker touches, such as their double team on the electric piano, as well as the uptick in duets. That self-assurance was also evident in their covers.
Matt and Zooey's interplay on the Ella Fitzgerald/Louis Armstrong standard "Would You Like to Take a Walk" was simply adorable, as was the dedication to Zooey's parents. (According to reports, Zooey's husband was also in attendance.) Zooey's biggest grins of the night were reserved for Al Anderson, who joined them for "Ridin' in My Car" (coincidentally, a song I know only through cover versions, via several different artists).
Toward the end of the night, they threw in a couple more oldies. They brought back Al Anderson for "Roll Over Beethoven," which Matt totally dominated, nailing that unforgettable intro and taking over the vocals. And when much of the crowd thought the show had drawn to a close, the two of them, sans band, returned for one more track: "I Put a Spell on You." Zooey let it all out, Matt contributed just the right balance of guitar, and we ate it up.
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