Last night, I had the opportunity to attend a taping of IFC’s new show, “Spectacle: Elvis Costello with…,” the brainchild of Costello and Sir Elton John. It all took place at the historic—and absolutely gorgeous—Apollo Theater. Upon taking the stage, Elvis opened the show, appropriately, with a cover of Steely Dan’s “Show Biz Kids.” The special guests? Jakob Dylan, Jenny Lewis, and She & Him, all of whom, in case you weren’t sure, hail from show business families. Indeed, even house band (Costello’s band, The Imposters) drummer Pete Thomas’s daughter, Tennessee Thomas of The Like, played the show.
Since this was a taping, I have no idea what the edited version of the show will look like, but Elvis introduced She & Him (Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward) almost immediately after the opening number. They played “Change is Hard,” one of my favorites off the album [Volume One]. Sadly, the sound was badly balanced: Matt’s guitar was too loud and Zooey’s vocals not loud enough. Since you’re all wondering, Zooey was wearing an adorable tea-length powder blue dress and her hair, as always, was amazing.
During the interview segment, Matt talked a lot about how he likes to have room to dream in the sonic landscape of a song and how important he feels “healthy abstractions” are in the experience of music. There was some dialogue between Zooey and Elvis about the freedom afforded to artists via the indie music (and film, in Zooey’s case) scene, and Zooey mentioned that a lot of her songs had been written in her trailer on film sets.
With Zooey and Matt still on-stage, Elvis introduced Jenny Lewis. The link may not be apparent, but there are guest appearances by Zooey, Matt, and Elvis on Jenny’s new album, Acid Tongue (due to drop on 9/23). Matt also helped with production, and Jenny mentioned that it was he who introduced her to analog recording. Jenny said he boosted her confidence, providing a “warm bed for the songs to grow from” in addition to a “timeless atmosphere.”
Using his outsider’s perspective, Costello asked what it was about California that colored the distinct writing style of these natives. Zooey and Matt both agreed that Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys introduced a sort of “California myth” to music. Jenny cited Los Angeles country music and the “Bakersfield sound,” Emmylou Harris, Tammy Wynette, Loretta Lynn, and the search for authenticity.
Costello talked about the intimacy and storytelling style of Jenny’s lyrics, leading into a performance of “Pretty Bird,” a new song based on a story she’d heard on public radio about a woman raped on an Indian reservation. There was more talk of authenticity, public attention, and the element of dress-up involved in being a popular singer-songwriter during Jenny’s solo interview segment. Zooey and Matt (Johnathan Rice, too) got called back to the stage for a knockout performance of “Carpetbagger,” the song in which Costello duets with Jenny.
Jakob Dylan was the main guest, but I took little interest in his portion of the show, nearly falling asleep at some point. I know he’s Bob Dylan’s son and I was madly in love with “One Headlight” (which he played an acoustic version of in order to illustrate his playing style) when I was 12, but I just couldn’t muster the energy to care. His big blue eyes are indeed big and blue, for those of you who are interested, and he also perpetuates the time-honored tradition of dudes wearing stupid hats throughout the entirety of his segment. Costello is excused since the silly hat is a trademark.
In the end, all the guests were called back to the stage for a performance of “Peace, Love, and Understanding,” which was amazing, even though the ladies were mostly useless. In fact, my partner in crime and I left the theater wondering whether that particular song had even been practiced with Jenny and Zooey, as they both seemed a little clueless.
All in all, it was an enjoyable experience. Hell, any experience with Jenny Lewis and Zooey Deschanel is bound to be enjoyable, right? Right. An observation, however: where once Jenny’s aesthetic was cute (Rilo Kiley did start out as a twee pop band if there ever was one), it is now sex. Zooey’s aesthetic is cute. Putting them together on one stage, trying to match their movements to one another, Zooey all nerves and Jenny all smooth moves, lead me to one conclusion: Zooey has no sense of rhythm. Sad, but true.
Speaking of sad, I wasn’t allowed to bring my camera to the venue for this one, so you’ll have to enjoy the included iPhone shots (via Michael Slaven) and wait until you can catch it on TV. The show will air its first episode in December. You probably won’t see this particular episode for awhile, though, as it’s the eighth episode in a series of thirteen.
“Spectacle: Elvis Costello with…”: website