Concert Reviews

She & Him Overcame Technical Difficulties to Bring Holiday Cheer to Dallas

Through technical difficulties, She & Him managed to deliver the holiday goods at their Saturday night Dallas show.
Through technical difficulties, She & Him managed to deliver the holiday goods at their Saturday night Dallas show. Preston Jones
Try as one might during the holidays, sometimes things just go awry. So it was Saturday night at McFarlin Auditorium, as a slightly more than half full room sat and waited … and waited … and waited some more for She & Him to materialize from behind an enormous red velvet curtain.

The opening act (comic Pete Lee, whose set was plagued by intermittent audio dropouts, turning his set-ups and punchlines into sonic Swiss cheese) had been gone from the stage nearly a full hour before a McFarlin Auditorium technical director emerged to preface the She & Him performance with an apologetic explanation that there could be some audio difficulties.

With that, Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward, the pair performing as She & Him, appeared on a stage festooned with seasonal decoration — glowing Christmas trees, faux snow-covered amps and monitors and twinkling lights — in every conceivable corner.

“Thanks for bearing with us,” Deschanel said, moments after walking onto the stage. “I hope you don’t have a curfew — you’re gonna be out a little late.”

The duo spent the next two hours battling through equipment hiccups — which, ironically enough, would yield the night’s most touching moment — and fighting to sustain a feeling of merry bonhomie that nearly evaporated completely by evening’s end.

The frustrating technical difficulties might have been a bit easier to bear had Saturday’s set not been She & Him’s first local appearance in nearly a decade — the pair last traveled through town in 2013, stopping in Grand Prairie — or an evening clearly designed to be a breezy, intimate, variety show-style give-and-take with the audience.

Having Deschanel’s velvety alto momentarily silenced during songs like “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” or “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm” jarringly dissipated the carefully staged nostalgic glow, making the night feel like a slog.

Backed by a crack trio of musicians (drummer Danny Frankel, bassist Mauricio Morales and pianist Keith Hollis) and backing vocalists Jessica Childress and Sara Mann, Deschanel and the whiskey-voiced Ward gamely bantered between songs — touching on everything from the weather to pie preferences to Deschanel’s silvery Kate Spade heels — and deftly worked through more than two dozen songs, the vast majority of which were pulled from the duo’s two holiday albums, A Very She & Him Christmas (marking its 10th anniversary this year) and 2016’s Christmas Party.

Most of the covers — staples like “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” and “Happy Holiday” — felt a bit perfunctory, and it was only when She & Him wandered away from the well-worn favorites into slightly more unknown territory (NRBQ’s “Christmas Wish”; the Frank Sinatra-popularized “Christmas Memories”; Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann’s “The Coldest Night of the Year”) that the proceedings sparkled a bit more.

Deschanel loosened up considerably when Childress and Mann joined her near the foot of the stage for a few songs, beginning with a sprightly “Mele Kalikimaka” that found all three women adorned with leis. The set list also dipped into non-holiday tunes, reaching all the way back to the pair’s 2008 debut, Volume One, and its still-irresistible single “Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?”

The duo spent the next two hours battling through equipment hiccups — which, ironically enough, would yield the night’s most touching moment — and fighting to sustain a feeling of merry bonhomie that nearly evaporated completely by evening’s end.

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Despite the late start and uncooperative equipment, the show mostly felt appealingly loose and shaggy, which nearly papered over its shortcomings. Amusingly, Deschanel occasionally got completely derailed mid-song, questioning the gender of Santa’s sleigh during “Little Saint Nick,” and dissolving into giggles at the beginning of “Blue Christmas,” lamenting Ward’s never having had an Advent calendar.

Yet, as the hour approached 11 p.m., the entire evening ground to a halt, as opening act Lee returned to the stage to engage with Deschanel in a 10-minute bout of Q&A and shtick, while Ward and the backing musicians vamped in the corner.

Had the night not struggled mightily to maintain consistent momentum to that point, the detour into chit-chat might have felt less lethal than it did. Watching the pair excitedly talk over one another — and Lee shamelessly solicit rounds of applause for the band, the tour’s technical crew and Deschanel specifically — felt like being trapped at a party by over-eager hosts.

Several audience members near the front began silently heading for the exits as Lee and Deschanel’s bit dragged on (“What animal would be the rudest if they could talk?”), emptying out vast swathes of seats. Why there wasn’t an effort to either eliminate this section altogether or dramatically scale it back is totally mystifying — it may have amused those on stage, but it was excruciating to behold, given the circumstances.

Those who stuck it out, however, were rewarded with an encore unlike any other on the eight-date run. Reappearing at the foot of the McFarlin Auditorium stage, Ward and Deschanel explained they were going to sing two songs with no amplification: “Nashville only got one!” Deschanel exclaimed.

With Ward on acoustic guitar, the pair sang Smokey Robinson and the Miracles’ “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me,” before paying tribute to the late Michael Nesmith with the Dallas-raised singer-songwriter’s “Different Drum,” which Deschanel said She & Him had never before performed live.

Their rendition — Ward’s chiming guitar lines underpinning Deschanel’s steely, sweet melodies — was an utterly moving, incandescent moment, a flicker of genuine beauty amid an evening that was frequently anything but. The heartfelt standing ovation given to Deschanel and Ward by those still gathered was equally emotional, a recognition of the gesture and an appreciation for the artistry displayed. It made the closing medley of carols, for which Deschanel and Ward were rejoined by the backing musicians, feel anti-climactic.

More than anything, the dazzling, unplugged encore served as a reminder that, even amid so much frustration and fizzled energy, the holiday season can still be a thing of loveliness, a moment to reflect and remember. Put another way: The gifts may have been long delayed in coming, but She & Him still managed to deliver.
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Preston Jones is a Dallas-based writer who spent a decade as the pop music critic for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, where the Texas Associated Press Managing Editors honored his work three times, including a 2017 first place award for comment and criticism (Class AAAA). His writing has also appeared in the New York Observer, The Dallas Morning News, the Houston Chronicle, Central Track, Oklahoma Today and Slant Magazine.
Contact: Preston Jones