She & Him Concert

So, Heather and I went to a She & Him concert at First Avenue for our 6th wedding anniversary.

“Music?” I hear you say. “WTF? Since when does Diabolical Plots cover music?”

Well, hypothetical questioner, there is a tie-in (however tenuous) to our more typical material, which I’ll explain in a bit, so hold onto your horses. What is this, the Spanish Inquisition?

Anyhoo, if you’re not familiar with She & Him, then you’re missing out. The “She” in the band name is one of my favorite actresses, Zooey Deschanel. She’s been in more and more movies over the last few years, and I just can’t get enough of them. The first movie that I really noticed her in was “Elf”, the only Will Ferrell movie that I like. She really caught my ear in that movie with her “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” duet with Ferrell. She has an amazing voice with crystal clear tones that seem to linger in the air, and a style that I associate more with styles of previous decades, most notably the 1920s. It’s no surprise that other movie directors have taken advantage of her musical talent, so if you want a wider sample, check out “500 Days of Summer”, a great story about love which is not a love story–an amazing movie on many levels. And, of course, her character in the movie “Yes Man” (co-starring Jim Carrey) had her own band called Munchausen by Proxy (best band name ever), in which they had several original and very catchy songs with Zooey as the lead singer. Also, for those of you who are programming geeks like myself, IMDB reports that she is scheduled to play Ada Lovelace (generally considered the person to write the very first computer program) in an upcoming movie.

“So…” you say. “Where’s that tie-in you were talking about?” Okay, okay. Well, Zooey is no stranger to speculative fiction movies. Elf is one, with its Christmas elves and Santa Claus. But, of more traditional SF, she played the role of Trillian in the 2005 movie adaptation of the late, great Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. And she also played DG (the Dorothy Gale analog) in the Sci Fi original Tin Man, one of the few Sci Fi originals that’re worth the time to watch (yes I know they call themselves SyFy but I die a little each time I use their official name). Oz is one of my favorite fictional worlds of all time, and my very first publication (The Utility of Love) was a horror retelling of The Wizard of Oz, so I was delighted to see Zooey in the lead role of the Sci Fi miniseries. I would really love to interview her for Diabolical Plots, and movies like that give me ample excuses to do so (If I didn’t have such excuses, I would still want to do an interview anyway because she is simply awesome). The trouble is, Hollywood people are rather hard to reach, for obvious reasons, and I have no idea how to go about it. So, while I try to figure that out, in the meantime I’m posting this article. If anyone has any ideas about how to initiate such contact, feel free to post a comment. Writers and editors tend to be much easier to find, because their careers depend on self-promotion, getting the news out about their next big book, so most have a Facebook or Livejournal account which can field messages. Actresses are much harder to reach, of course–I have found a Zooey Deschanel on Facebook but I seriously doubt it is the Real McCoy.

So anyway, like I was saying, She & Him has released two CD’s so far, cleverly named Volume One and Volume Two. We picked up Volume One pretty much the moment that we first heard that Zooey had a band, and loved it enough that the purchase of Volume Two was a foregone conclusion. The “Him” of the band’s name is M. Ward, another very worthy talent, who plays guitar for the band and also sings vocals for some of the songs (though not nearly as many as Zooey). The CDs include some familiar songs (like Swing Low, Sweet Chariot) but are mostly original music, generally with a catchy beat, often about love or breakups. My favorite from these two CDs is “I’ll Get Along Without You Now”, a story of a recently ended romance. But my favorite lyric is from “I Thought I Saw Your Face Today”: I somehow see what’s beautiful in things that are ephemeral. The lyrics are well-written, the melodies stick in my head all day, and Zooey’s amazing voice takes these great components and turns them into one marvelous whole.

Back to the concert. Unfortunately, Heather had to work late that day, so we weren’t in line at the door when they opened up. This is a bit of a pain at First Ave because there are only a few actual seats (which we were way too late for), the rest is standing room. So we had to stand, though we found a place where we had a decent vantage point.

The opening band was The Chapin Sisters, a duo who were working double-duty as She & Him’s backup singers. They were… okay. We like their backup singing, (to the extent that Heather’s considering a complete career change to audition for a position as back-up singer for She & Him), but they didn’t wow me as their own group. I think this was largely due to two factors:
1. The sound levels weren’t very well adjusted for this portion of the concert. As a result, one of the two sisters was so loud that she was both borderline painful to the ears and also nearly impossible to understand.
2. Of the lyrics that I could understand, the songs didn’t really catch my interest that much. The one that I do remember involved sitting in the dusty branches of a palm tree, which didn’t really make sense and simultaneously wasn’t an intriguing fiction.

Often I complain when bands talk too much, to the point that they just seem more interested in ranting and pushing their own agendas–usually long monologues about the general desirability of living in a constant muddled drug haze. Or, in the case of Rufus Wainwright, long long inflammatory political rants, occasionally interrupted by him “performing” his music, which he both managed to forget the words to, and also sang quite off key.

She & Him was on the opposite end of the spectrum, to the point that they barely spoke at all, generally flowing from one song into the next without a pause for breath. They stopped two or three times just for a moment to ask how we were doing and to let us know they were having a good time, once for Zooey to ask people to turn off the flashes on their camera, and once to ask one particularly obstinate individual to PLEASE turn his flash off who didn’t listen the first time. They introduced the band members only at the very end, with simply a listing of their names and no further elaboration.  The upside of this is that there was a lot of music packed into not much time. The downside was that I would’ve actually liked to hear them talk about themselves, to hear some more from Zooey, and to hear anything at all about M. Ward about whom I know almost nothing. He is Ferb to Zooey’s Phineas, almost entirely silent to the other half of the more vocal duo (if you don’t get that reference you need to watch more cartoons).

They were fun to watch, and they performed everything very closely to how it sounds on the album, which is always a plus for those who, like me, like to sing along. I have no complaints about the concert, they provided a great night of music. Check out their CDs and catch their concert the next time they come through town.