For the curious who didn't make Saturday night's She & Him concert, let's start with the answers to your FAQs about Zooey Deschanel's musical side project at the Trustees Theater.
She was wearing a pretty, red party dress. Her hair was long, with those trademark bangs combed coquettishly down her forehead. Yes, she looks just like she does in the movies.
She spoke to the audience two or three times, on one occasion complimenting Savannah for the Spanish moss that hangs omnipresent in our trees. In California, she then said, "we have palm trees, but we don't have Savannah moss."
Yes, she can sing, though not spectacularly.
Yes, the sold-out show was good - pleasant and entertaining, if not earth-shattering.
Deschanel is the songwriter and singer for She & Him; Matt Ward, a.k.a. Him, arranges and produces the records, plays guitar and - at least onstage - runs the show. There were five others in Saturday night's band, including two backup singers who shook tambourines and traded off on one-handed synthesizer chords.
It was all about Zooey, though. In fact, for the first three minutes of the first song, "Sentimental Heart," she sang alone, playing electric piano. Then the band kicked in; four chords and 60 seconds later the song was over.
In fact, very few if any of her songs have structures that could be called complex - most of them are doo-wop cakewalks with little in the way of dynamics. Think sock hop music played with Roy Orbison's sense of drama, and a lot of tight little "shoo-be-do-wah" background vocals with Beach Boys shadings and Link Wray guitar runs.
Ward's purpose in all this seems to be fleshing out the actress' thin compositions with fat layers of sound, like Brian Wilson's "teenage hymns to God" on a weird old jukebox alongside old Crystals and Ronettes records.
What's cool is that, while they're obviously retro-sounding on purpose, Ward has disguised the sometimes twee words and images with dicey and unusual arrangements. This is a trick that Sufjan Stevens, among many others, also uses. Quirkiness as a tool.
Ward kept mostly to himself downstage right, throwing in surf licks on his electric guitar (curiously, his guitar was somewhat buried in the sound mix), singing the occasional harmony and keeping an eye on the band. For the first 20 minutes of the 80-minute show, the guy sitting behind me kept asking his buddy who on the stage was "Him." Ward seemed content to keep the spotlight firmly on Deschanel.
When she wasn't standing at the electric piano and singing - one couldn't help but get an image of Linda McCartney - Deschanel stood alone at the centerstage microphone, her hands folded in front of her, sometimes rattling a tambourine. On Skeeter Davis' "Gonna Get Along Without You Now," she strummed a ukulele.
Most of the set was taken up with uptempo tunes from the two She & Him albums - "Ridin' in My Car" (a great old song by the band NRBQ), "This is Not a Test," "Me and You" and "In the Sun" had the sold-out house rockin'. Shiny happy people holding hands.
During a short acoustic set, when the rumbling din of the band was on pause, Deschanel suddenly showed an impressive vocal range. As Ward played guitar, she sang her own "Brand New Shoes" (from She and Him's Volume Two album) and the Miracles' "You Really Got a Hold on Me" (from Volume One).
Deschanel probably shouldn't quit her day job, but She & Him is fun, and frothy, and an entirely worthwhile endeavor. She was clearly having a good time onstage, and the audience - made up largely of students, it appeared - was just so happy to see her, they probably would've loved it even if she had sucked.
But she did not. Not by a long shot.
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