She & Him have always felt a little bit too good to be true. Take an indie boy’s dream starlet, pair her up with one of the folk world’s most talented musicians, and let the two of them make sweet, retro music all summer long. Then the summer fling turns into a second, even more accomplished album, and suddenly before you know it this heavenly pairing are making their London debut.
Hearts were all a-flutter as Zooey Deschanel skipped onto the stage as honorary third sister to opening act The Chapin Sisters, adding yet another layer to their folksy harmonies. As Lily and Abigail Chapin built up their haunting songs by adding stamps, claps and eventually a full band, it was their voices which constantly mesmerised. Lily’s pretty mid-level tone provided a constant, while Abigail’s voice switched effortlessly between a low, rhythmic layer and high harmonies.
When it came to her time in the spotlight, Deschanel smiled and bounced her way around the stage like an old pro, occasionally pausing for breath behind the keyboard to offer up a pretty melody, and flanked once again by The Chapin Sisters, who provided the integral female harmonies and handclaps that makes She & Him’s music so reminiscent of classic girl groups. With She & Him’s songs ranging from the heart-on-its-sleeve sentimentality of ‘Take it Back’ to the joyous melody of ‘In the Sun’, the whole band worked best when the two came together, especially on ‘Home’ and ‘This is Not a Test’.
Him’s contribution throughout was admirably delicate and understated. While M. Ward has the ability to shred (I believe that is the technical term) the guitar as if he was born with one welded to his hands (proven in spectacular form during the rollicking ‘Roll Over Beethoven’), his presence was more frequently felt through the lightest of flourishes. A generous collaborator – even changing the lyrics of his own frenetic ‘Magic Trick’ to seemingly be about She – Ward used his all too brief, husky vocals, where he placed each word gently into the mix, to complement Deschanel’s voice.
If it is even possible to find a flaw in such a charming evening then perhaps it should be said (and you have no idea how much it pains me to do so) that at times Deschanel’s voice got lost a little during the poppier numbers. It was undoubtedly at its best during gentler moments like ‘Brand New Shoes’ and more soulful songs where the silky-smooth tone of her voice shined through, such as their cover of Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong’s ‘Would You Like to Take a Walk?’.
And then, as if to prove any doubters spectacularly wrong, Deschanel and Ward closed the evening with a spine-tingling rendition of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ ‘I Put a Spell on You’. Ward provided the sparsest of guitar to punctuate Deschanel’s stunning vocal, where she delivered the song as only an actress could do – her powerful, controlled voice heavy with emotion and selling every last line to the rafters. It was a mesmerising end to what had been an evening of unadulterated joy, and proof, if it were needed, that She & Him is no mere kooky collaboration, but the fortunate meeting of two true talents whose work together is totally deserving of your star-struck admiration.