Concert review: She & Him at the 9:30 Club

FEEL THE LOVE: M. Ward inspired shrieks of joy, while Zooey Deschanel's warble endeared.
FEEL THE LOVE: M. Ward inspired shrieks of joy, while Zooey Deschanel's warble endeared. (Kyle Gustafson For The Washington Post)
Friday, July 9, 2010

She & Him is the nostalgia-diving duo of Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward. Deschanel, she of the ginormous blue eyes and long, dark hair, was first introduced to us an actress; Ward has his own long-established career as a revered Merge Records singer-songwriter. But in this partnership, it's She who writes and sings the songs, while Him -- er, he -- produces the albums, plays a sometimes-ghostly, sometimes-antsy tremolo-drenched guitar and . . . brings the sex appeal? That can't be right. And yet, Ward was the one who drew the greater (or shriller) share of crowd love Wednesday night at the 9:30 Club, the shrieks a-shrieking whenever he sidled up to lend his broken mewl to Deschanel's wide-open, unironic warble. He had more presence as a foil than when he headlined at the 9:30 on his own last year.

But then, Deschanel has always flattered her male co-stars. Her most recent film role of note was as the obscure object of poor Joseph Gordon-Levitt's desire in "(500) Days of Summer" -- a phrase that at a sold-out, upper-arm-sticking-to-your-neighbor's 9:30 felt more like biblical curse than the title of an indie rom-com. Mercifully, the stuff coming from the stage was light as the breeze. Deschanel's songs -- lovesick but never despondent -- pleasantly evoke the Brill Building pop and Bakersfield country of the JFK era, and she sings them with a relaxed authority that recalls Dusty Springfield and the young Loretta Lynn. The 80-minute set found room for Ward's "Magic Trick" and a handful of covers, all of which sounded of a piece with her own tunes.

A three-piece band and two harmony singers supported the stars, but the show's best segment was when they ditched their backup. After the midnight-blue torch song "Brand New Shoes," they gave us what Deschanel said was their first-ever public crack at the Beach Boys' "Wouldn't It Be Nice." It would, actually. It was.

-- Chris Klimek

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