Live Review: She & Him, Philadelphia, PA, July 2, 2010

Zooey Deschanel, the often dippy but always charming indie-film darling, proved once again that she can do no wrong. There is no need for slashes in her title; she is truly all at once two separate entities: a movie star as well as a musician. With singer/songwriter M.Ward, she fronts She & Him, and the duo’s live sound—backed by the Chapin Sisters’ bright harmonies, plus your standard bass, guitar and drums—is full, cheery and buzzing with energy.

The second album from She & Him, Volume 2 (Merge), brings Deschanel’s sunny, retro vocals and chord progressions together with Ward’s raspy voice and driving guitar solos. The set list included tracks from their sophomore album, like “Home” (about Deschanel’s native California) and a sassy cover of Skeeter Davis’ version of “Gonna Get Along Without You Now.” To start, there was also the soaring “Sentimental Heart” and their specialty “You Really Got A Hold On Me,” both showcasing Deschanel’s crisp, vocal resonance.

What links all of She & Him’s songs is no matter how somber or heartbreaking the lyrics or melodies, they somehow retain a certain sunniness, a light energy. Even the down-in-the-dumps “Brand New Shoes” can still have you smiling and singing along with Deschanel’s deep-rooted whispers, “We are all made of air/There’s stars in my eyes and sun in my hair/But I’m runnin’ away/It makes me feel better/It’s just like you told me it’d be/It’s nothin’, nothin’.”

On the sad-yet-cheerful “In The Sun,” Deschanel whipped out the ukulele, which only added to her charm, as she hopped around the stage, strumming and smiling. Both Ward and Deschanel swapped instruments from guitar to keys and back again. On “Sweet Darlin’” off Volume 1, Ward began on keys then Deschanel joined him on the bench at the bridge as they plunked on the keys at the same time- Deschanel adding theatrical glissandos.

Both Deschanel and Ward have a bit of a theatrical flair to their performance—not over-the-top, but professional. The mood of the show is more like a well-oiled stage play than the reality of an intimate concert. Even the way duo took the time to bow for each other and then recognized their band behind them before exiting was more community theater than Hollywood, only adding to their charm.

As Deschanel crooned “Why don’t you come and play here?/I’m just sitting on the shelf” on “Why Do You Let Me Stay Here,” there seemed to be a communal heaving sigh from the audience. In no other setting is it socially acceptable for a six-foot-tall man, pushing 200 pounds, to screech, “I love you!” other than being just a few feet away from the lovely Deschanel. Ward managed to steal the spotlight from his ethereal bandmate as he picked out an incredible ‘70s guitar riff that sliced into the otherwise poppy tune.

After returning for a short encore, She & Him played two unique, crowd-pleasing covers while still tapping into their retro themed set. First was “Fools Rush In” (covered by Sinatra and Elvis, to name a few), which the band recorded as a part of Levi’s web series where artists remake songs that inspired their current sound. Last, Ward broke into the familiar, nostalgia-inducing riffs of ‘50s rock ‘n’ roll with “Roll Over Beethoven” as Deschanel let loose on the keyboard. And just as mysteriously as they broke into the music scene two years ago, Ward sauntered offstage trailed by Deschanel, who hopped and skipped behind him.

—Cristina Perachio