Initially, I want to gush. Gush about how great She & Him is, how cute and wonderful both Zooey Deschanel (She) and M. Ward (Him) are, and what an amazing performance I saw last night at the Trocadero in Philadelphia’s Chinatown. I’ll try to save some journalistic integrity by quoting a concert goer in the ladie’s room immediately following the show: “It’s like cute overload!” While I agree with the sentiment 100%, it’s hardly fair to start off a recap of the [sold out] show with that, though I just have.
Public radio station extraordinaire WXPN welcomed (sponsored/promoted) She & Him along with country folk opening act Freakwater, whom opened for M. Ward on his January 2007 tour. Not necessarily my usual cup of tea, Freakwater front women Janet Bean and Catherine Irwin put on a tight, if sedate, set. The Troc was already packed as Freakwater played beautiful songs rife with melancholy and country twang, which the crowd eagerly applauded.
The time in between Freakwater’s exit and the appearance of Deschanel and Ward was filled with retro pop songs that clearly influence She & Him’s own sound, appealing to her affinity for early 60s girl pop and his own penchant for retro tunes. The time between sets also seemed infinite, but was more than worth the wait.
Several false alarms of the crowding cheering only heightened the room’s growing anticipation for She & Him to take the stage. Thunderous applause greeted Deschanel and Ward and their backing band as they made their entrance. Not many bands call pull off selling out shows with only one album — even if Him is pretty much a legend and She is already famous for her acting career — but if there was any doubt that this duo could live up to the hype, it was shattered as She and Him broke into their set.
Deschanel’s voice was strikingly beautiful and moving, especially in songs such as “Black Hole” where she sings songs of melancholy: “I’m stuck here / Getting misty over you. / I’m alone / On a bicycle for two.” The set included covers by Smokey Robinson, whose “You Really Gotta Hold On Me” appears on She and Him’s Volume One and another, “You Turn Me On, I’m A Radio” by legendary folk folk singer songwriter Joni Mitchell. Deschanel’s vocals faltered slightly on the latter, seemingly due to nerves, but any sense of uncertainty dissipated with the next song, “Take It Back,” singing her own words.
She and Him played a brand new song written by Deschanel, betraying a broken heart as she sang, “That won’t stop me crying over you.” “Sentimental Heart” followed with more of the same heavy emotion: “Cried all night till there was nothing more / What use am I as a heap on the floor?” Though mostly smiles on stage, a few certain looks that passed Deschanel’s face also gave away some inner turmoil, but by hit single “Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?” (download) she’d loosened up and was happily bouncing around the stage. The happiness could’ve also been due to a fan tossing a mix CD onto the stage for Deschanel, who picked it up and announced, “It’s a mix! I love mixes!”
The effervescence continued with “This Is Not A Test” before the set wrapped with “Sweet Darling,” for which Ward put down his guitar in favor of playing the piano. Deschanel was exploding with energy, jumping up and down and smacking her tambourine before sitting next to Ward on the piano bench to finish out the tune as the crowd danced and clapped along in time. Before exiting while the backing band played on, Ward and Deschanel took center stage and bowed before the audience. The departure of the backing band was met with cacophony from the crowd for an encore.
After a few minutes, She and Him reappeared for a three-song encore consisting solely of cover songs. The first was a lovely rendition of Sam Cooke‘s “Bring It On Home To Me” followed by “Magic Trick,” a Ward original and technically only a cover for Deschanel. Before the final song, a cover of Emmylou Harris‘ “Hello Stranger,” She and Him asked Freakwater to join them on stage. Deschanel placed Irwin and Bean at her microphone telling them, “We’d love to be back up for you anytime,” as she joined her own back up singer further back on the stage.
She and Him has seen such great success so quickly not because Ward and Deschanel are already famous, but because they both musically compliment each other so well. Ward is simply an astounding musician and Deschanel, though known foremost for her acting, is an extremely talented singer and songwriter. Their mutual penchant for retro pop and proclivity for various genres has created an exciting and cohesive, if still small, discography, which translates wonderfully live.
She and Him are on the road through August, culminating their headlining tour with a spot on this year’s Virgin Mobile Festival at Baltimore’s Pimlico Race Course. Be sure to catch the pair in a town near you and pick up a copy of their debut album Volume One, available now on Merge Records.
Jul 28 – Cat’s Cradle / Carrboro, NC (SOLD OUT!)
Jul 29 – Variety Playhouse / Atlanta
Jul 30 – Mercy Lounge / Nashville
Jul 31 – Orange Peel / Asheville, NC
Aug 02 - Newport Folk Fest / Newport, RI
Aug 04 – Wexner Center for the Arts / Columbus, Oh.
Aug 05 – Park West / Chicago (SOLD OUT!)
Aug 07 - First Avenue / Minneapolis
Aug 08 – Barrymore / Madison, Wi.
Aug 10 – Virgin Mobile Fest / Baltimore