Better Than: "The Happening," this summer's M. Night Shyamalan flick that co-starred Zooey Deschanel. But really, what isn't?
Download: The eminently likable "Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?" from She & Him's Volume One.
Though perhaps not yet a household name, Zooey Deschanel is most certainly A Movie Star, having appeared in films as diverse as "Elf" and "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy." Her star continues to rise: she's playing opposite Jim Carrey in the surely intolerable "Yes Man," out next fall (hopefully not but probably as a love interest—ew, she's almost 20 years younger than him).
But none of that really mattered Wednesday night at the House of Blues in Anaheim, though it might have contributed to the nearly full, completely adoring crowd that showed up (it is undeniably hard to resist the lure of seeing famous people in person—I saw Juliette and the Licks once, for gosh sakes). Deschanel was there in her role as lead singer of She & Him, her duo with indie folkster/perennial collaborator M. Ward.
Deschanel didn't make any reference to her "day job," and it's not something that's played up in any of the promotional materials for She & Him. She's taking the project seriously (it's no Anywhere I Lay My Head, let's say), as shown by her choice of cohort and the fact that their album is actually, and this is important, good.
That record—Volume One, released this spring—is a tribute to '60s pop, soul and, most often, the classic county of acts like the Carter Family and Linda Ronstadt. It's not a "modern version" of those styles, it pretty much is those styles. So when Deschanel brought up the previous night's election results ("So how about our new president? I'm so excited!") it seemed almost like an anachronism, like we should have been talking about the latest developments on "Gunsmoke" instead.
Just like every other band with only one album, the set was almost all of that, some covers and a couple of new tunes. Not to slight their charming originals, but covers constituted much of the night's highlights, including Joni Mitchell's "You Turn Me On, I'm a Radio" and a particularly powerful version of "I Put A Spell On You" designed—successfully!—to highlight Deschanel's vocal range. That she can sing is no surprise at this point, she's done so in several of her films. The degree of which she can pull it off live for 70 minutes is what's really impressive. Darn those people with more than one talent! (She periodically played piano, too. Grr!)
Given She & Him's penchant for all things pleasantly old timey, it makes sense that their renditions of legitimately old songs would be especially effective—three of Volume One's 13 songs are covers. Essentially, enjoyment of She & Him both live and recorded depends on your fondness for their obvious influences, and your ability to appreciate a lovingly rendered if not somewhat twee pastiche of said influences in the year 2008, performed by people born well after the originals were created. Or you just think Deschanel and/or Ward are cute. That works too.
And they are so very cute. Ward was more of the silent type throughout the evening, though whenever he piped up on a background vocal the crowd exclaimed appropriately. Deschanel was much chattier, engaging fans in small talk about Disneyland and the fact that her dress had pockets ("my dress has pockets," she said in an unassuming, too adorable for her own good manner); even responding to random comments yelled out from the audience. Several songs, like "Take It Back" and their cover of "You Really Got a Hold On Me" were performed with just the two of them, but were joined by a full band for the majority of the set.
Los Angeles band Lavender Diamond opened up with about a half hour of their similarly female-fronted folk pop.
Personal Bias: I've thought Deschanel was fairly awesome ever since her endearingly white trashy turn in 2002's "The Good Girl."
Random Detail: A young female fan jumped on stage at the very end to say something (something nice, let's hope) to Deschanel, but was quickly escorted away. Those teenage girls are a real menace.
By The Way: Name spotted on the She & Him guest list: Gibbard, Benjamin.
She & Him set list:
"I Was Made for You"
"Change Is Hard"
new song, title not given :(
"You Really Got a Hold On Me" (Smokey Robinson)
"Take It Back"
"You Turn Me On, I'm a Radio" (Joni Mitchell)
"I Thought I Saw Your Face Today"
new song, title also not given, but the chorus was "won't stop me crying over you"
"Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?"
"This Is Not a Test"
"I Put A Spell On You" (Screamin' Jay Hawkins)
"Bring It On Home To Me" (Sam Cooke)
"Magic Trick" (M. Ward)