She & Him Win Over the Crowd with Retro Flair

June 6, 2010, 8:38 p.m.

The crowd of floral-printed, funky hairdo-ed hipsters at the She & Him concert was no surprise. Zooey Deschanel has been the poster girl for this retro-hipster movement since her breakout role in “Almost Famous.” However, people should think twice before dismissing She & Him as just another snooty indie act. Deschanel and collaborator/producer M. Ward’s sunny ditties are pure, unabashed pop. The charming nostalgic romance of their songs is hard to deny. One look at the energetic sold-out audience at the Fox Theater in Oakland on Saturday certainly proved that.She & Him Win Over the Crowd with Retro Flair

After a mellow opening act from the Los Angeles-based duo, The Chapin Sisters, She & Him took the stage, launching into the fun and fizzy “I Was Made for You.” Deschanel, dressed in a gorgeous glittery halter dress, bounced up and down like a little kid shaking her tambourine. The band is clearly a showcase for her considerable musical talents–Deschanel sings and writes all her songs. Nonetheless, M. Ward’s role shouldn’t be tossed aside so easily. His wailing guitar added a much-needed kick of rock ‘n’ roll to Deschanel’s sugary melodies. Always the gentleman, Ward lingered on the side, out of the spotlight, to allow his female counterpart to shine.

However, the band is at its best when She & Him share singing duties. Their cover of Smokey Robinson’s “You Really Got a Hold on Me,” performed by only Deschanel and Ward on his acoustic guitar, was a highlight of the night. The duo stood on either side of the stage singing their respective parts to each other. Ward’s warm, buttery rasp anchors Deschanel’s airy voice perfectly.

Ward and Deschanel were visibly excited for who they described as a “very special guest” and “one of their heroes.” They brought out Al Anderson, the original singer and writer of “Ridin’ in my Car,” a cover that they recorded on their second record “Volume Two.” The trio traded off verses–Anderson’s nasally country drawl sounded right out of the ‘70s, when the song was first released.

Deschanel dedicated the duet “Would You Like to Take a Walk?” to her parents who were in the audience that night. Their quaint rendition of the pop standard, most famously sung by Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald, brimmed with charm, particularly during the back and forth dialogue between Deschanel and Ward.

It’s not clear whether it was Deschanel’s microphone or her inability to enunciate, but it was impossible to understand anything she was saying to the audience until halfway through the show when someone finally yelled, “We can’t hear you! Speak up–you’re mumbling!” Once the problem was remedied, it was nice for the singer to actually build a rapport with the audience.

Nowadays, most touring musicians plan for encores by saving their big songs for last, which forces the crowd to call them out again after they have allegedly finish their set. She & Him took a refreshing break from that mentality by performing pretty much their entire catalogue, including their most popular songs. Despite that, the audience called the duo out for not just one, but two encores. They charged back on stage for rollicking covers of “Fools Rush In” and Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven.” The latter was Ward’s sole solo of the night, and he tore it up with his raw vocals and shredding guitar.

For their second encore, they tackled Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put a Spell on You.” Like most of their best moments, it was just Deschanel and Ward with his electric guitar. The moody blue lights added to the seductive atmosphere. Any hesitations regarding Deschanel’s merit as a musician were dispelled. The singer didn’t flub a single note as she wailed and hit notes beyond the general range of her songs. On record, Deschanel’s voice is pleasing and easy to listen to, albeit not the strongest one. However, there’s added warmth to her live performance. It was almost a pleasant surprise to discover that Deschanel can, in fact, sing.

Their spectacular set left the crowd completely satisfied as they exited the theater, proving that She & Him is more than just another celebrity vanity act and rightfully deserving of its rising star.

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