She & Him throw enough curves musically to hit several of my personal sonic sweet spots–from classic country to twangy indie rock, Spector-style “Wall of Sound” girl-group harmonies to sunny Cali beach-pop.
The combination of the under-appreciated indie guitar god M. Ward and Zooey Deschanel–a multi-talented musician and actress, and an inexplicably divisive figure among Hipster Nation–makes for some fine retro-tinged tunes in my book, and their winning show at Red Butte Garden Tuesday did nothing to change my opinion.
Joined by a band of multi-instrumentalists and backup singers the Chapin sisters–Abigail and Lily, fine artists in their own right–She & Him hit the stage on an ideal night at Red Butte Garden shortly after an announcement essentially pleading with the crowd to NOT spend the entire evening recording videos and taking pictures with their phones. Opening with “I Was Made for You” proved a challenge, as the hiccup-ing vocals of Deschanel and the band’s playing took a few minutes to lock into a good sound mix.
Any audio issues were quickly solved as the band moved into the subtle grooves of “I’ve Got Your Number, Son” and when Ward shifted from guitar to piano and started trading vocals with Deschanel on “Baby.” The band gained momentum through “Snow Queen” and “Lingering Still” before Deschanel took a turn on piano as well, for “I Thought I Saw Your Face Today.” She remained there for one of the highlights of the show, “Take It Back,” delivered with gorgeous violin and pedal-steel flourishes.
From there, it was a consistent mix of songs from She & Him’s three releases (not counting their Christmas album). “Thieves” from their debut settled nicely in the setlist alongside “Take It Back,” and later songs like “Hold Me, Kiss Me, Thrill Me” led to expansive takes on “Change is Hard” and “Brand New Shoes.”
After about a dozen songs, the backing band left the stage for Deschanel and Ward to deliver some sparse duets, starting with a cover of The Miracles’ “You Really Got A Hold On Me” and going straight into Frank Sinatra’s “Stars Fell on Alabama,” which they had to start over after a tuning breakdown about a verse in. That glitch was quickly forgotten, though, when the Chapin Sisters joined the duo on stage for a harmony-laden version of the Righteous Brothers’ “Unchained Melody.” In the end, all the cover songs proved to be some of the best moments of the night, including an energetic pass on NRBQ’s “Ridin’ In My Car” later in the show.
Between-song banter from Deschanel was charming and ingratiating, and also kept to a minimum–another aspect of She & Him I appreciate as a show-goer. And while She & Him’s sound might be too precious or retro for some tastes, you put that sound in the right environment–as it was Tuesday–and you have the makings of a damn fine summer evening. That is a thing anyone should be able to appreciate.