She & Him
Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell
Tilly and the Wall
Saturday, June 22, 2013
The Greek Theatre, Berkeley
Better than: Necking with Bobby against the jukebox; Zooey's boring foray into the blogosphere.
If life is like a box of chocolates, as a famous fictional philosopher once claimed, then I assert She & Him is like one of those ubiquitous pink frosted cookies you see at cafés; a little cloying to some, but predictable in a way that leaves your teeth coated with a pleasant layer of nostalgia.
This syrup is an active ingredient in the love potion that Zooey Deschanel has used to charm her way into the role of America's spaced-out sweetheart; and it works really, really well live, especially on a cool summer night at Berkeley's Greek Theatre under a freaking supermoon. The band stayed tight throughout its 24-song set; Deschanel and producer-guitarist M. Ward (the Him to her She), were all smiles and pre-revolutionary 1960s charm; and the audience remained reverently silent throughout, minus the cheers and whistles.
Eclectic indie outfit Tilly and the Wall served as the night's first opener and its last glimpse of the iPhone age; the force of my generation's obsession with hyper-novelty was strong with them, as band member Jamie Presnall tap-danced out some percussion between lead singers Neely Jenkins and Kianna Alarid. (Which one is Tilly? And which is the Wall? Is it just me or does the situation sound a little good cop/bad cop?) "They weren't afraid to do their thing, to be quirky," said Matt, a self-described She & Him "Superfan." "I'm definitely buying their album." Another man responded to Tilly with a condescending toss of his head. "They were... not great," he muttered. "Weird."
After Tilly and the Wall, the Greek plunged into the musical roots of Americana. Veterans Rodney Crowell and an elegant, greying Emmylou Harris immersed the audience in a warm, golden memory of pre-Carrie Underwood country music. Rather than concede to nervy bursts of showmanship, Harris and Crowell let the tunes take center stage, weaving steadily between rapid fiddle-slinging and plaintive, bone-cutting croons. By the time they finished, listeners were basking in the vintage glow -- and ready for more.
A lot more. She & Him played at least 24 songs, and my concert companion insists they left her favorite one off the setlist I received. The good news is that while the show ran long, it never dragged; though dreamy in texture, the songs rarely lasted longer than three-and-a-half minutes. Deschanel may be known for her New Girl character's gee-whiz rambling, but her own writing is just the opposite. During "I've got your number, son," Deschanel sang a zinger of a line, a commentary on herself and her fans: "I sacrifice myself at the altar of someone else's love for me/No, that doesn't comfort me."
Speaking of fans: She & Him's were a total menagerie. There were dorky dads in wrinkled T-shirts, skinny teenagers and pale, busty brunettes in polka-dotted dresses who I'd bet were named Betty. There were even some little kids -- hurrah for all-ages shows! -- and finally, a physics teacher named Ned who'd driven all the way from Pennsylvania to see the show (but we'll get to him later).
Most of the time, the night felt perfectly attuned to what an outdoor concert should be; weed smoke hung thick and fragrant, wine-drunk 20-somethings twirled their arms through the air and closed their eyes in something approximating hippie catharsis; picnic blankets and cuddles proliferated.
But sometimes the vibe felt just a little bit off. Deschanel's banter was pretty vapid, which was disappointing given the quality of her lyrics. At one point, she asked concertgoers: "So... do you feel like you're in a... Greek theatre?"
"Because... you should!" she added.
Get it? We're in the Greek theatre. The audience went nuts. (Perhaps they'd applaud for Deschanel if she spoke in Pig Latin. A lot of them were pretty drunk, I guess.)
The lighting was a little weird too; at first, the background flashed nicely between different jewel tones, but the hues got steadily brighter and more obnoxious as public interest in them waned, in typical Halloween fashion (you know, that point in the evening when you're done caring about the costume and all you want is the candy). And the band felt a little kitsch; everything looked vintage, up to the polished buttons on the drummer's waistcoat.
But these complaints are small potatoes. As far as concert experiences go, She & Him was delicious from start to finish, even if some moments felt a little vague or cloying. After all, if anyone can make a gimmick work to her advantage, it's Deschanel.
Personal bias: During "I've Got Your Number," I received a half-tackle hug from a drunk woman in a Juicy velour sweatshirt. So I feel weird about that song now. (Also, I used to have Zooey Deschanel bangs. And I think M. Ward is hot).
Random Detail: She & Him refused to let concertgoers take photos or videos with their iPhones.
By the way: Ned Somerville, a 24-year-old high school physics teacher, drove all the way from Pennsylvania with his buddy Wes to fulfill the latter's longtime dream of taking Deschanel out on a date. The men are filming a documentary around the chase in the style of "My Date with Drew," but when Somerville and I parted ways it was unclear whether Deschanel would comply with Wes' request.
I Was Made For You
I've Got Your Number
Take It Back
Change is Hard
Hold Me Thrill Me
Turn To White
Brand New Shoes
You've Really Got a Hold On Me (Smokey Robinson cover)
Stars Fell on Alabama
Shadow of Love
Me and You
Don't Look Back
Ridin' In My Car
This is Not a Test
I Thought I Saw Your Face Today
Never Wanted Your Love
I Could've Been Your Girl
In the Sun
Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?