What do Davey Havok from AFI and folk music have in common? They were both at the closing night for this year's Noise Pop extravanganza...
Unlike the rest of the other nights, Sunday's closing party found only three shows to satisfy the throngs of music aficionados and badge holders, one of which was even in the afternoon. Thus, stepping into the Great American Music Hall was a lot like stepping into a sauna filled with sweaty hipster kids wearing a bunch of peasant dresses. The night's decidedly folk theme with the hyped debut of She & Him, comprised of indie actress Zooey Deschanel and superstar plucker M. Ward, had everyone in murmurs of anticipation.
I'd argue, though, that each of their openers held steady ground before any sighting of Hollywood glitz. Emily Jane White, signed to Oakland's Double Negative records with her full-length of slow country ballads and hard crackle vocals, opened the show with a declaration of strength and power. That quieted down a bit with following act Adam Stephens - who was appearing solo minus partner Tyson Vogel of their marriage in Two Gallants - but his calculated piano strokes and soft murmur of a croon brought the dreamy factor to the show.
If anything, Whispertown2000 brought the folk-off (nee dance-off). They brought everything I love in a band: bold vocals that fill a venue, soul, finger snaps, intricate guitar strums, and a whole lot of attitude. They danced, they shouted, they grinned like maniacs in love. "Hello Wishing Well," one of the quieter anthems, still showcased their layered harmonies with a punch. I remember cheering loudly after their set and rooting like Arsenio Hall, which I don't do in public too often but hey - when it's merited, it's merited.
To be honest, I was both really nervous and excited for She & Him to come on as the stage was turned over for the headliner. Ward has been one of my favorite acts ever to see live and listen to on record; his scratchy, loose way of singing is both comforting and intriguing, and what he can do on his axe, tricks, distortion, harmonica, and other twiddling mechanisms is such a treat to see in person. He simply does what he does best, in the most earnest, badass, and straightforward way, and for that I wanted to see what he could do in She & Him. As for Deschanel, I'd just finished watching The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, and I also saw Elf about three years ago - not a whole lot to base her on, but she's likeable on the big screen.
Thus, it was hard to judge the talent quotient on my end; should She & Him be twice as good, mind-blowing, and orgasm-worthy because you had an indie folk god and a starlet at the helm? Or do you treat them as any other band? It's a really honest question. In both cases, the verdict is still out on my end. Knowing that the two have only played a handful of informal shows and that Noise Pop's appearance was more or less their first official show, I'm a compassionate one. Deschanel looked nervous as all fuck when she stepped onto the stage, and cracked two songs in on vocals. However, fast forward to a cover of The Beatles by-the-way of Smokey Robinson's "Really Got A Hold On Me," and she's belting it out with the best of them. It was a wobbly show that night: sometimes the gel to hold the band together wasn't there, or an abrupt end to a song blasted out. But then there were moments like in the encore where Deschanel's ability to hold a note were show stopping and the audience responded with thunderous applause. I really believe with more shows under their belt, Ward and Deschanel can conquer what their potential is at; it's not like there's a lack of talent in that duo.
Regardless, it was a good icing to my experience of Noise Pop numero 16 - the staff, volunteers, and managers I met or worked with were always friendly and fun to talk to; my friends who I went to shows and happy hours with put up with my shenanigans and participated themselves; and, of course, the bands I saw were fantastic to witness for one reason or another, and didn't mind me hugging them. Thank you, thank you, and thank you for everything.
Now to recover...
She & Him
3.15.08 - St. David's Episcopal Church (SXSW)