It’s no surprise that the Millennium Park concert on Monday evening (June 7) by She and Him would be crowded. But the throngs that packed into the Pritzker Pavilion and the lawn surpassed expectations. When I arrived at 5 p.m. for the 6:30 concert, the lawn was already close to full and a long line snaked around the park, filled with people waiting for the gates to open for the 4,000-seat pavilion. By the time the music started, the area in front of the stage and much of the aisle space were jam-packed with fans.
The big turnout was probably due to several things: 1. Many of these people, especially the people up near the front who were singing along to the music, are She and Him fans. Duh. 2. Zooey Deschanel is oh, so cute. She isn’t a huge movie star, but she is a star and she’s pretty, so of course, a lot of people would turn out just to see her. 3. Beautiful weather. 4. Beautiful park. 5. Free admission. I mean, given all of those factors, why not go to Millennium Park for the She and Him show — even if it was on a Monday night, not exactly the top night for entertainment?
I count myself among the She and Him fans. Deschanel is definitely more than a pretty face. Over the two records she’s made with the masterful M. Ward as her guitar-playing and occasionally singing partner, she’s proven that she knows how to write a great song. Volume One and the recent Volume Two are filled with catchy tunes in the classic pop style, the sort of stuff that would have been radio hits in the 1960s or early ’70s. Both of these records have really stuck with me.
And in concert, She and Him pretty much deliver what they do on record. Deschanel was having a great deal more fun than she did the first time I saw She and Him, at a SXSW party in 2008, when her stage presence was rather shy and stiff. This time, she danced more often, even jumping up and down a bit. The show especially came alive on upbeat songs like the great “This Is Not a Test.”
Ward, meanwhile, stayed in Deschanel’s shadow for most of the evening, playing some nice if understated (or undermixed?) licks on the guitar. I get the feeling Ward enjoys letting Deschanel be the focus of attention in this project. Together with the backup band, Ward really makes Deschanel’s songs and the covers in their repertoire (such as NRBQ’s “Riding in My Car”) sound like vintage pop. She and Him did play one of Ward’s solo songs, “Magic Trick,” and he took over the lead vocals for a rousing version of Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven” during the first encore.
The concert seemed to be over at that point, when the P.A. system started playing the Beach Boys’ “Wouldn’t It Be Nice.” But then Ward and Deschanel came back out and played one more song, Screaming Jay Hawkins’ “You Put a Spell On Me.” It was the one time all night Deschanel really belted out some notes (not that there was anything wrong with the cool, controlled style she displayed the rest of the evening). And then, with Ward’s final solo playing on a repeating loop, She and Him exited, after 90 minutes of winsome music.
Chicago girl group Hollows opened the concert, playing in front of a vast crowd that must have been considerably larger than any audience they’ve ever entertained. With their retro sound, they won over at least the fans in the pavilion, who gave Hollows rapturous applause after their set.
See my photos of She and Him and Hollows.