She & Him and The Bird and the Bee at the Hollywood Bowl | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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She & Him, The Bird and the Bee

She & Him and The Bird and the Bee at the Hollywood Bowl, July 18th, 2010

Jul 21, 2010 Photography by Michele Yamamoto Web Exclusive
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The middle act of a triple bill featuring male/female songwriting duos, She & Him barreled through 18 songs in less than an hour at the Hollywood Bowl on Sunday night. That’s three more songs than headliners The Swell Season performed, even though The Swell Season had 30 more minutes allotted to them. The concert, presented by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, was sponsored by KCRW as part of its World Festival program at the Bowl. The “world” part must apply to The Swell Season only, being that Los Angeles’ The Bird and the Bee, who opened the show, and She & Him are West Coast-based acts.

The folks at the Bowl apparently run a tight ship, because the performers appeared very aware of their time restrictions. Before The Bird and the Bee’s last song, singer Inara George referred to the countdown clock on the stage that alerts performers how much time they have left. Although She & Him assembled a hearty set list that would satisfy fans of both of their albums, it could have been trimmed by a couple songs, simply to ease the pace of the performance. While the energy of a live setting can warrant songs to be played at a faster tempo, there were moments of She & Him’s performance that felt distinctly rushed, notably “This Is Not a Test,” which segued into “Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?” late in the set.

Singer Zooey Deschanel and guitarist M. Ward toured sparingly for Volume One, their first album as She & Him, but the March release of their second album, Volume Two, has been followed by more extensive touring, which has benefited Deschanel’s vocals. She still sounds flat at times, but now there’s more command of her amiable compositions, retro-pop songs that range from postwar torch ballads to country to ‘70s California AM rock. Though she’s found her niche as an able songwriter, the lingering problem for Deschanel is that, for someone with a decade’s worth of performing experience in acting, she continues to appear ill at ease onstage. She certainly looks the part of a frontwoman; amid the old-school architecture of the Hollywood Bowl, Deschanel resembled an early ‘60s ingénue from a silver screen musical as she took the mic off its stand and crooned the ballad “Change Is Hard.” Yet, there are still times when she looks like a deer caught in headlights, and other moments where it’s almost as if she has to remind herself to smile or do something that looks like she’s having fun. She & Him were backed by three other musicians (including mainstay Mike Coykendall on guitar) and L.A.‘s The Chapin Sisters on backup vocals. Watching the Chapin Sisters share the stage with Deschanel, it was striking how much more comfortable they appeared and engaged in the music.

Ward’s vocal presence on stage has increased a tad. Two years ago, when he’d duet “You Really Got a Hold on Me” with Deschanel, his initial turn at the mic would draw cheers, seemingly because it was the first time fans heard him during the show. But on Sunday, She & Him opened with a duet, NRBQ’s “Ridin’ in My Car,” which appears on Volume Two. And even though he’d already had a turn at the mic to open the set, Ward’s first vocal part during “You Really Got a Hold on Me” still drew an enthusiastic response. He also sang on a rousing take of his own composition, “Magic Trick,” and with the Bowl stage lights finally beginning to glow after sundown, he blazed through Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven.”

For She & Him to continue on and remain an appealing collaboration, Ward might have to take on a bigger part of the songwriting and vocals duties. It would add some variance to the formula, and judging from the response to his increased vocal role on Sunday, fans probably won’t mind. The spotlight will remain Deschanel’s.

Like headliners The Swell Season, She & Him’s journey took them through Park City, Utah in 2007. That’s where Once, the film that starred Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová of The Swell Season, earned an audience award at the Sundance Film Festival months prior to its U.S. release. It’s also where Deschanel and Ward, there to promote The Go-Gettera film that featured their first recorded collaboration on its soundtrackperformed live together for the first time. Shortly thereafter, a candid video snippet of that performance surfaced on YouTube, of Deschanel singing “I Put a Spell on You,” accompanied by Ward on guitar. Though intriguing, the clip didn’t promise anything special. Deschanel had sung informally around L.A. prior to that. But three years later, she and Ward held center stage at L.A.‘s most historic music venue as she belted out the same song to close She & Him’s set. “I Put a Spell on You” is best known for Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ scorching version. Deschanel has nowhere near that kind of fire in her voice, but she attacked the song fearlessly nonetheless, sustaining long, sturdy notes that earned approval from the approximately 17,000 on hand. If Deschanel were to bring that same fearlessness to her stage presence, She & Him, already a musically dynamic outfit, would be something truly special to witness.

As is normally the case with outdoor concert openers who perform in the daylight, The Bird and the Bee were at a disadvantage. Promptly hitting the stage at 7 p.m. as folks made their way to their seats, George and keyboardist Greg Kurstin led their band through an eight-song appetizer of their buoyant lounge pop, without the aid of any discernable stage lighting.

“The last time we played, I was really pregnant,” George said. Her voice, which at times floats into a feathery falsetto, sounded strong in the large setting, and she looked fit stomping through choreographed dance moves with her three backup vocalists/musicians, including Juliette Commagere on keyboard. Because of the large venue, the dance element of their music came off bulkier than on their more subtle recordings, but songs such as the harmonious clap-along “My Love” wafted pleasantly through the summer air.

In March, The Bird and the Bee released a covers tribute album to Hall & Oates, and mid-set they played “Sara Smile” and “Heard It on the Radio” from that collection. When George warned those with children that the next song had a dirty word in it, I braced myself for “Ring ‘Round,” the naughty Lily Allen-esque track that they composed for Rose Byrne’s character Jackie Q in Get Him to the Greek. (Kurstin produced Allen’s It’s Not Me, It’s You album.) But the song in question turned out to be Bird and the Bee staple “Fucking Boyfriend,” which had George bouncing up and down and waving her arms in the air. Kurstin’s infant daughter had been happily watching the band’s set off to the side of the stage, and during set-closer “Polite Dance Song,” he walked over to lift her in his arms and waltzed her back to the piano. With pink headphones on her head, she watched curiously as he soloed during the song and even more curiously as a fan pointed a camera at her as The Bird and the Bee exited the stage.

She & Him set list

Ridin’ in My Car

I Was Made for You


Black Hole

Lingering Still

Over It Over Again

Take It Back

Change Is Hard

Brand New Shoes

You Really Got a Hold on Me

I Thought I Saw Your Face Today

Magic Trick

In the Sun

Don’t Look Back

This Is Not a Test

Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?

Roll Over Beethoven

I Put a Spell on You

Bird and the Bee set list


Love Letter to Japan

Again & Again

Sara Smile

Heard It on the Radio

Fucking Boyfriend

Polite Dance Song


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