SXSW 2010 Quick Hits, Day 4: She & Him

Rachel Ray’s day party at Stubbs BBQ was on a roll from Jakob Dylan to Street Sweeper Social Club, then back to the main stage for She & Him. It was quite a change in vibe to downshift from the powerhouse rock of SSSC to the mellower vintage pop stylings of She & Him, but Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward rose to the occasion with a well-received set to close out the party.

The charming Deschanel has the voice of an angel and Ward seems like the perfect choice to orchestrate a band around her to maximize those talents. The Chapin Sisters were brought out to add extra harmonies as well, which was an extra treat. The band’s sound pays tribute to a bygone era, but there’s still a fresh vibe demonstrating that classic sounds never go out of style. Deschanel and Ward conjure a dreamy ambiance, making it feel as if the band has set up on a cloud somewhere. The final song even featured the band revving up for a big jam, with Ward rocking out some bluesy riffage on guitar, showing that the band has diverse skills at their fingertips. It’s a rare actress that can hold her own musically as well as she does on screen, and Deschanel delivers.

She & Him, SXSW 2010
Photo by Steve Hopson

  

SXSW Music 2010, Day 4: Neither Wind Nor Rain…

The weather took a decided turn for the worse in the middle of the night when a big rainstorm hit town. Festival-goers were spared precipitation on Saturday, but the temperature dropped into the 50s and it was cold and windy throughout the day. It felt more like a late-autumn afternoon in the Midwest than Spring Equinox in Austin, but the chilly conditions would not stop SXSW music fans from getting their fill on the final day of the conference/festival.

The big highlight of Saturday afternoon was Rachel Ray’s day party at Stubbs BBQ, which required a special invite. The general RSVP line was going nowhere, but thank goodness a friend had an extra pass. Free margaritas and bloody Marys were served along with chicken quesadillas and meatball sandwiches. Jakob Dylan and Three Legs (featuring the dazzling Neko Case) played a strong set that had a sound not unlike some of the recent work of Jakob’s dad – slow-burning blues and Americana sprinkled with the Tex-Mex flavor. Case’s backing vocals added an extra element to raise the songs higher for what sounds like some of the younger Dylan’s best work.

Street Sweeper Social Club stole the show though with an incendiary set that provided a needed infusion of heat to the chilly conditions. Tom Morello, Boots Riley and company rocked a heavy sound with a definite Rage kind of vibe that had people bouncing. This was one of the best sets of the week.

She & Him closed out the party with a strong set of their own. Zooey Deschanel sounded great, especially with the Chapin Sisters appearing as guest to harmonize with her. M.Ward led the able band, which even rocked out a deep jam at the end.

Getting indoors became the next imperative and there was a large crowd inside Lovejoys, one of Austin’s best dive bars. They had music too, of course, with Middle Distance Runner rocking a heavy sound. The guitarist even pulled one of Tom Morello’s slide guitar tricks. Caitlin Krisko & the Broadcast followed with a bluesier sound, with the charismatic blonde frontwoman belting out some powerful tunes, while a conga player helped provided polyrthythms.

After a break to eat some dinner and catch some March Madness (how about those Northern Iowa Panthers), it was over to Spill on 6th Street where Antennas Up were showcasing at 8 pm. The Kansas City band has a funky sound accented by some trippy synth samples. They’re clearly into the space vibe with astronaut helmets that were donned during one tune, and Space Invaders stickers on the drum kit.

The highlight of the early evening was the redemptive 9:00 set from the Watson Twins at the Central Presbyterian Church on 8th Street. The venue is an actual church with amazing acoustics. Combining this with an evening headliner slot had a dramatic effect on the Twins, with this set highlighting their dynamic sound in a way that their Friday day party set could not. They still didn’t play anything off their first album, but the new tunes sparkled in a new light in this setting.

The 10:00 hour fell flat for a variety of reasons, but Dengue Fever stepped up with an 11:00 set at Emo’s main to get things rocking again. Cambodian vocalist Chom Nimol started off the set wearing a hoodie and skullcap, but she and the band quickly heated things up with their groovy sound, causing Nimol to strip off layers until she was just wearing a pretty blue dress.

Then it was over to La Zona Rosa on West 4th Street for a great SXSW finale with Pretty Lights, who blew up the joint with their funky beats and trippy sounds. The Colorado duo’s spectacular light show provided a dazzling accompaniment to the dance party which went right up until 2 am.

Much more on the past four days coming in my wrap-up report within the next 24 hours…

  

She & Him: Volume Two


RIYL: Linda Ronstadt, The Mamas & the Papas, Rosie Thomas

There’s a pretty short list of things you can reasonably expect from an album titled Volume Two, which probably has a lot to do with why Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward decided to use it for their sophomore effort – like their first album, it’s a slight, competently crafted set of retro-evocative mid-tempo numbers, a sort of thrift store trip through the Laurel Canyon pasts of female singers like Linda Ronstadt and Laura Nyro, and by giving it this title, Deschanel and Ward might have been trying to deflect some of the crushing hype that’s dogged them since they announced their collaboration.

Can’t blame ‘em for trying. Actually, they could have tried a little harder – like the first outing, Volume Two has a lazy, tossed-off feel; nothing here is bad enough to make you switch it off, but neither does much of the record stand out. Deschanel’s gotten a lot of credit for being an actor with a real, live singing voice, just as Ward’s been applauded for giving his recordings a warmly authentic retro vibe – but singers are supposed to be able to sing, and music isn’t supposed to need computer gimmicks. All the She & Him hype is based around giving the band credit for things that are supposed to come naturally to musicians, which is puzzling. When did indie rock turn into the Special Olympics?

That might sound a little harsh for an album this offhandedly charming, but there’s no getting around the fact that She & Him intentionally beggar comparisons to better bands, and their music sounds awfully hollow in the bargain. Deschanel sings about heartbreak, and Ward lays on the pedal steel like syrup, but there’s a smirking detachment lurking behind the whole thing that sounds like play-acting. It’s most evident when they try and tackle a page from a truly great songbook – as with Volume Two’s ill-advised cover of NRBQ’s “Ridin’ in My Car” – but it’s always there. You’re better off revisiting the work of the band’s most obvious influences and working your way forward from there. (Merge 2010)

She & Him MySpace page

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]
  

Various Artists: 500 Days of Summer Soundtrack

The supervisors to the sountrack for “500 Days of Summer” get points for putting the Smiths’ “Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want,” Doves’ “There Goes the Fear,” and Dayl Hall & John Oates’ “You Make My Dreams” on the same soundtrack; they get super mega bonus points, though, for putting them back to back. The set, as you might guess, is an eclectic mix of rock and pop of the mainstream (Hall & Oates, Simon & Garfunkel), modern (Doves, Wolfmother), and hipster variety (Feist, Regina Spektor, She & Him). The songs will surely make sense in context with the film, but it makes for a unpredictable listen at home. In other words, don’t play it at your next party, unless you want Spektor’s “Hero” to be code for “Time to go home, people.” Again, there is nothing wrong with “Hero,” or Feist’s “Mushaboom,” and Meaghan Smith’s bedroom pop cover of the Pixies’ “Here Comes Your Man” is really cute. The overall result, though, is the kind of thing that is best served cut up and thrown onto mix discs and playlists. Still, it’s pretty good, as current soundtracks go. (Sire)

Click to buy 500 Days of Summer Soundtrack

  

Related Posts