She and Him’s relaxed performance at L.A.’s Vista Theatre on April 29 was neatly encapsulated within the performance of their Volume One standout, “Sentimental Heart.” The first half of the song, featuring only Zooey Deschanel’s trickling piano drops and smoky, cracked vocal yearning along with M. Ward’s minimalist, sympathetic guitar ambience, was a sepia haze of achingly fragile and enchanting country balladry.
The song’s second half, featuring a full band flowering within the song and around Deschanel’s voice, however, wasn’t quite as successful. The band was able to replicate the sounds of Z. and M.’s album, but not the soul; with the exception of the rollicking, rolling waves of Carter Family exuberance in “Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?” and the punchy Phil Spector-pastiche of “Sweet Darlin’” (both of which featured actor/musician Jason Schwartzman), the musicians had a tendency to overwhelm the songs rather than support them.
The duets between Deschanel and Ward, however, were stunning, slowburn showcases for her sensuous twang and his spidery, melancholic guitar lines, most especially on the covers (a pleasant surprise, as these were the weak links in the golden chain of ’60s pop vistas on the LP). Ward’s ghostly vocals haunted “You Really Got a Hold on Me” as they swirled around Deschanel’s honeyed croon in a quiet, intense performance. Sam Cooke’s “Bring It on Home to Me” became a heartbroken call-and-response between the two, with Ward’s guitar becoming an arterial throb beneath Deschanel’s deep, numinous voice. The encore climax featured the depth-charge blues of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put a Spell on You,” with the swampmurk heat of the guitar simmering alongside Deschanel’s wrenching (her lungs, your heart) howl.
Like Volume One, She and Him’s performance was a winning, back-to-mono survey of 50 years of AM pop and country. Although it must be said that this music is better when left to she and him–the rest of the band was a bit too heavy handed with the tunes.