Philadelphia Weekly, July 6, 2010 (as Lauren Smith)
She & Him, the duo of actress Zooey Deschanel—she of the dark bangs, elfin features, and cotton commercials—and singer-songwriter M. Ward lit up the Great Plaza’s River Stage Friday night with a pleasant but unremarkable set of fizzy, retro folk-pop.
The lopsided pronouns of their name—selected, according to Deschanel, to draw attention away from their, or rather her, marquee light names—are a hint to the off-kilter stage dynamics of this twosome. Ward may be a Monster of Folk, a songwriter and guitarist with a retro twang and ear for subtle pop grooves, but beside Sundance sprite Deschanel, he’s the shrugged-off him, a producer shuffled on stage to back his winsome little wunderkind. Make no mistake: the butterscotch voice and dewy eyes may be Zooey’s, but the lush, strum and reverb music behind her is all Ward. It’s a thankless role. On stage Ward mostly played second fiddle to Deschanel’s jangling tambourine. She hopscotched across the stage, chattered with her trademark deadpan whimsy (“My dad’s family are Philadelphia people from way back. Maybe I’m related to some of you.”), and bent her voice from back porch drawl to cabaret croon. Like any good actress she stole every scene she was in.
Ward lurked stage right, barely distinguishable from the grizzled session player band behind him, drawing attention only with the occasional guitar solo. But when he did pitch in his worn leather voice—on covers of the Miracles’ “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me” and NRBQ’s “Ridin’ in My Car”—the resultant he said-she said duets were so effortless one wonders why he doesn’t step up to the mike more often.
The twosome played tunes off both their releases—2008’s Volume I and this year’s (wait for it…) Volume 2, pea in a pod albums operating in the same throwback vein, both playing like forgotten B-sides from a vinyl collection full of Carole King and Bobbie Gentry. Standout numbers included “Me and You,” a frothy confection complete with ba-dahs lifted right from a 60s shampoo commercials and “Why Do You Let Me Stay Here,” a come hither waltz with Deschanel in full porcelain doll mode.
But even when she tried plaintive on for size (for example, in “Sentimental Heart”), Deschanel still sang through a smile. She was so dizzily charming even lyrics about crying over a breakup came across syrupy, the sonic equivalent of a banana split. The mostly young audience—many taking cues from Deschanel’s own swoony, vintage and paisley style—ate it up. They may not know her inspirations, but they like the latest role she’s playing.