She & Him's 'Cute' Act Doesn't Cut it at the Hollywood Bowl: Concert Review

Kyleen James
While the double feature of male and female singer-songwriter duos wasn't a competition, the couple of older legends left the youngins in the dust.

The rock and pop portion of the Hollywood Bowl’s summer program got underway Sunday night with an evening of music co-produced by KCRW. On the bill: Matthew E. White, Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell, and finally, headliners She & Him, which is, of course, Zooey Deschanel and M. (Matt) Ward.

At the risk of sounding like an old curmudgeon: three acts on a Sunday night? Was this really necessary? Even at the glorious Bowl, with the stars glistening overhead, the rush of trees at sunset, the incredible history -- and the interminable traffic -- three and half hours of music is just too long. In this age of singles, not albums, nobody -- not even the mostly over-45 crowd in attendance -- has that kind of patience anymore.

The snoozeathon began with country-esque crooner White, who was so mellow, laid-back and low-key that most folks paid more attention to their picnic dinners, carefully curated vino and smartphones to really give him a listen. Not helping his reception was the fact that White didn’t project his voice to fit a venue of such magnitude. It was very hard to even hear his vocals, let alone his lyrics.

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Deschanel and Ward -- despite her TV clout and indie movie fame -- were not helped by the fact that “the old people,” Harris and Crowell (as they referred to themselves), are the real deal when it comes to cool country. Harmonizing on soft, wistful songs about truckers and cowboy angels -- and, of course, lost love -- the two singer-songwriters met way back in 1974, but remain as relevant as ever. Harris sings with an otherworldly effervescence, while her thick shock of silver grey hair and simple black dress looked every bit as unpretentious, soulful and womanly as her lyrical delivery. Both were a joy to behold -- and to hear -- whether telling stories or blending their beautiful vocals to songs by Gram Parsons (among them: country-rock classics like "Grievous Angel" and "Luxury Liner").

You could not say the same of Deschanel, however. When the 33-year-old beauty danced out onto the stage in a sea foam and crystal-bejeweled chiffon gown with a flower wreath as her crown, it was as if she was announcing to the Bowl audience, “Look, I’m cute!” -- which those in attendance already knew, and mostly didn’t care about. And while the outfit was like a trial run for the Emmys, the performance also wasn't up to snuff. This crowd wanted real music, some cool moves and a touch of heat generating from that magnificent stage. But they never got it.

Although the pair mostly harmonized on pretty pop ballads, there was no doubt that it was the Zooey Show. The actress sang most of the songs herself (many from the group's latest release, Volume 3), bathed in a solo spotlight, and while she certainly possesses a nice voice, it doesn’t have a lot of range. Indeed, combined with M. Ward’s rakish harmonies, it felt enhanced.

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And where was the “Him” in this She & Him show anyway? Ward played some mean guitar, and sounded great on one of his older songs, "Magic Trick," but it was as if Deschanel was declaring herself the next Emmylou Harris and relegating this great indie musician to the status of a backing player. Adorkable she may be, but Deschanel might have been better off just handling harmonies, like Scarlett Johansson did with Pete Yorn on the Break Up album.

Indeed, Johansson knows she’s an actress first, who can do a bit of singing, pleasantly enough. Perhaps Deschanel just isn’t listening. To wit: "Hold Me, Thrill Me," which was simply too challenging for her voice. M. Ward, on the other hand, is a true musician who plays lighting speed guitar and has written gorgeous melodies for decades now. For New Girl Deschanel, hitting a tambourine and tossing her hair doesn’t qualify as performance -- at least not on this historic and iconic stage.

Twenty one songs and three acts later, the audience looked more than ready to go as they headed down the long exit to wait out the Bowl’s stacked parking. The season finale of Mad Men awaited on this school night, and that was something to get excited about.

Set List:

Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell

Grievous Angel
If I Needed You
Love Hurts
Hangin' Up My Heart
Invitation to the Blues
Dreaming My Dreams
Back Where We Were Beau
Luxury Liner
Gain Control
Leaving Louisiana
Ain't Living Long

She & Him

I Was Made For You
Baby I've Got Your Number
Take It Back
Change is Hard
Hold Me Thrill Me
Turn to White
I Thought I Saw
Stars Fell
Ridin In My Car
Don't Look Back
Magic Trick
Why Do You Let Me Stay
In the Sun
Never Wanted Your Love
I Could've Been Your Girl
Sweet Darlin'

Twitter: @THRMusic