She & Him keep things light in Oakland (5/29)

In a recent interview with Gareth Campesinos, the Los Campesinos! frontman discussed artist’s rights and the difficulty musicians face with defining any of the terms in which their art is appreciated. From leaks to paparazzi, fans have access to nearly everything, both in and out of the spotlight and artists are left with virtually no control over what the world sees and what they don’t. This is an an easy concept to understand, even an easy concept to agree with, but to actually respect and abide by…well, that’s a different story.

This is why my initial reaction to the photo policy that She & Him have been strictly enforcing throughout their touring was of confusion. When they were in L.A., the Facebook page of the El Rey put out a bulletin to make sure no one brought cameras to the show and went as far as to ask that no pictures were taken with a camera phone. In Oakland on Saturday, I heard multiple fans rumbling that the band could walk-off stage if too many flashes are seen. From two people who should be used to the spotlight, Zooey Deschanel and M.Ward, this kind of request seemed both naive and unreasonable. As someone with a problem with authority, I saw this as a challenge, almost wanting to use my flash just to piss them off. And, though the reason for this request wasn’t stated, as a listener knowing nothing about who Ward and Deschanel really are, I put the blame on the actress/singer, noting that she gets paid serious sums of money to have her picture taken and must see this as violation of her earning potential. Ward just seems too cool to give a shit about that, right?

But the fact of the matter is, this is what the band requested. Why? It doesn’t matter. While a band might not be able to control whether you pay them for music, they can control whether you pay them to see them live. Furthermore, they have control over the policies in place at these shows and if a band doesn’t want people taking pictures, it is their right to say so. What is more shocking than the request and it’s seeming lack of reason, is that people can’t adhere to it. People still took pictures, some using a flash so long and bright that it was annoying to me and I wasn’t even facing them. It is not a fan’s right to take pictures of whatever they want, it is not your right to be able to attend the show, and though this is clearly the minority of people, it is enough people to warrant a ridiculous security atmosphere and to force the band to continue this policy if for nothing more than principal. While it is easy to look at a musician and think they have it made because their job is clearly awesome, that doesn’t mean they don’t have rights.

So it was not surprising that during the opening three songs, when photography is permitted for the press, that Deschanel seemed stiff, not looking anywhere near the cameras and even nervous. More likely, though, this demeanor is the result of fairly limited musical experience, a fact that can be forgotten because of her successful film career. But, this faded quickly, with the show reaching its stride quickly and maintaining it through its nearly 100 minutes. I had never been to the recently restored Fox Theater in Oakland, but seeing it on Saturday left no doubt as to why this place is stealing a lot of shows from San Francisco, as it is perfectly set up (more bars than any venue of its size than you would believe), had a clear and loud soundsystem (there have been some complains about sound at other shows here, but She & Him are not a difficult band to accommodate sonically) and, photography issue aside, employed a helpful and courteous staff. The band, in return, seemed thrilled to have sold-out such a large hall and rewarded the audience with a surprisingly long set, considering they have only two albums of recorded material.

Surprises highlighted the evening. The band shined while performing Ward’s own “Magic Trick”, which benefited from the big sound that three female singers can make in backing (Deschenel and opener The Chapin Sisters, who accompanied She & Him for the entire set). They also nailed Ward live staple “Roll Over Beethoven”, which closed out the encore and would have provided a killer ending to the show. But, as people headed towards the exit and the houselights remained dim, just the two principals returned to perform a reaching cover of “I Put a Spell On You”. People sprinted (by people I mean teenage girls) back to get a view, too blinded by the enjoyable evening to realize that Deschanel is not Mariah Carey and that the singer is better served keeping it light than trying to hit the showstopping notes. No one even seemed rattled that a group with two albums in the can would have the balls to pull a double encore. No, they ate that shit up. What did go over awkwardly was the inclusion of guest Al Anderson, guitarist from NRBQ. Before playing their cover of NBRQ’s “Ridin in My Car”,  Anderson joined the group but seemed lost when Deschanel tried to include him in casual banter. Luckily, awkwardness is Deschanel’s natural state and she dryly moved the evening along. The crowd gave a courtesy eruption when he sang lead on the final verse, but it was clear that the special guest was really just special for the band. The crowd was happier to know that Deschanel’s parents were in the audience, showing a connection that much of the audience feels with the music of She & Him, though it isn’t really emotion-inducing fare.

But, even as a skeptical critic, I couldn’t help but fawn as Deschanel would smack her tambourine and do little hops during musical breaks. Anyone who is skeptical about her genuine love for music and her genuine commitment to this project clearly didn’t watch her leave the stage on Saturday night, with her arms raised like a runner crossing a finish line. Ward also was endearing, watching the singer throughout the entire set, acting as both teammate and coach, clearly invested in every note she sang and skilled enough to contribute his share with little visible effort. With him, making it look easy and making it look cool are synonymous.

And though there was a clear divide in what the artist and fans demand from each other, all She & Him wanted to do was show the packed house a good time. In return, the crowd, danced, sang, got drunk, fell down and I even saw one weep (!?). Children thanked their parents for accompanying them to the show and the parents sincerely thanked the kids for introducing them to music that celebrated their youth. She & Him is clearly a crowd-pleaser and don’t need to sacrifice their artistic rights to do the pleasing. Call it a victory for musicians, or just call it a victory.

She & Him setlist:
I Was Made For You
Black Hole
Lingering Still
Me and You
Take It Back
Sentimental Heart
Change Is Hard
I Thought I Saw Your Face Today
You Really Got A Hold Of Me
Would You Like To Take A Walk
Magic Trick
Gonna Get Along Without You Now
In The Sun
Don’t Look Back
Over It Over Again
Ridin in My Car
This Is Not A Test
Why Do You Let Me Stay Here
Sweet Darlin’

Fools Rush In
Roll Over Beethoven

I Put A Spell On You

(Corrections to the set list, welcomed.)

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