A full house at this historic Southern California concert venue had mostly come to hear TV star Zooey Deschanel (of Fox's "New Girl") sing with her musical partner, M. Ward.
About midway through their performance, Deschanel and Ward sang a couple of lovely covers, without their full band's support - one sometimes augmented by a string section. They sang Smokey Robinson's You Really Got a Hold on Me and The Stars Fell On Alabama. They harmonized beautifully together, and Deschanel looked and sounded comfortable. However, when accompanied by all her backing musicians, Deschanel appeared awkward and stiff, mindlessly banging on a tambourine - seemingly just to have something to do with her hands. Also, with this bevy of players, her pleasant but no spectacular vocals got a little pitchy.
The true musical star of this duo is Ward. There were many pre-4th of July aural fireworks during moments when Ward took electric guitar solos that were simply spectacular. Deschanel may be the media star, but She & Him's retro sounding new songs would not be nearly as appealing without Ward's part.
Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell are country music royalty. She with the perfect singing voice, whether singing lead or harmonizing, and he as the songwriter that gave us >'Till I Gain Control Again and Ain't Livin' Long Like This, the latter performed tonight with a jam from the electric guitar power trio of Albert Lee, Jedd Hughes and Mike (Incubus) Einziger.
In addition to drawing from the strong "Old Yellow Moon," Harris and Crowell also performed wonderful country-rock classics, like Towne Van Zandt's If I Needed You and Gram Parsons' Wheels. This 'other' duo may have been an unknown quantity with this particular crowd, but they nevertheless gave them a fitting music history lesson.
Matthew E. White opened this show - while it was still light outside - with a winning combination of country, reggae and jam band singer/songwriter music. Songs like Big Love took on a jazzy vibe, which included his percussionist literally banging on Coke bottles to keep the beat.
If it takes the presence of a TV star to entice young people into experiencing the great Emmylou Harris, maybe it's worth it. Even so, it would have been nice to see the grand dame performing for an audience that was actually paying attention. In fact, the couple sitting next to me left after Harris had exited the stage and before Deschanel had taken the stage. Deschanel and Ward are at least worth a look, but these concert neighbors at least had their priorities in order.