- SXSW 2014
Photo by Autumn De Wilde
She & Him
Consisting of singer-songwriter M. Ward and actress Zooey Deschanel, the duo known as She & Him brought their summer tour to Austin on Sunday night for a sold out show at the Moody Theater. Review by Caitlin Wittlif.
If you’ve ever been out to karaoke with friends, and one of them surprises you by having a solidly good voice, you might remark, “Oh, wow! You should sing in a band!” On Sunday night, Zooey Deschanel showed Austin what it would sound like if your friend took you up on your compliment. The New Girl actress teamed up with folk hero M. Ward to bring their third original album together, the aptly titled Volume 3, to life on stage.
She & Him’s six person backing band was spectacular, M. Ward noodled effortlessly — but Deschanel seemed to struggle to stand out. She has a sweet, good-not-great voice that isn’t quite powerful enough to rise above the fray for certain notes, and for the first few songs, she seemed awkward and uncomfortable, standing with tense shoulders and shaking a tambourine just a touch faster than the drummer.
Still, it’s easy to understand why you would root for Deschanel. It was clear that she was struggling with how to present herself, because she takes her music seriously and wants to separate it from her acting career. Her songwriting is skillful, as she weaves 50s crooners and 40s folk tunes together to create a sense of nostalgia.
She offered up some banter, asking how many attendees were related to Willie Nelson and responding to male fans shouting out their love, “...boys. Please.” Indeed, because she is so well known, audience members were emboldened to shout a number of compliments or critiques based on her film history, her performance, or the fact that she was performing with M. Ward. One woman who began to call Deschanel names was escorted out of the venue, quite explicitly showing the unique difficulties of being a crossover artist.
Deschanel did best when the backing band left her to share the stage with Ward alone. After gaining confidence while she sat at the piano for “Take it Back,” Deschanel was ready to roll as she and Ward kicked off their acoustic set with the best song of the entire night, “Brand New Shoes.” Deschanel’s voice finally broke open, breathing and soaring in a tearful but gorgeous way.
A few covers followed, including “You Really Got a Hold On Me” and “Stars Fell On Alabama,” and then the band returned to whip through more She & Him ditties like “Me and You,” “Shadow Of Love” and “This Is Not A Test.” The highlight of the encore was M. Ward’s take on “Roll Over Beethoven,” the only song of the night where he was the primary singer.
Overall, the night was pleasant. Openers The Secret Sisters outshone the main event, singing in blissful harmonies and sounding angelic as they crooned both with an acoustic guitar and a cappella. She & Him will always be an enjoyable throwback act to put on as background music at an outdoor party, and perhaps with time, Deschanel will define herself more as a musical performer and grow into the stage. For the time being, the band should focus on the stripped-down songs that they do best. -Caitlin Wittlif