Believe it or not, it’s been 10 years since She & Him – Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward – released their first delightful collection of holiday tunes, A Very She & Him Christmas. In honor of this momentous occasion, the duo, joined by a full band and backup singers, stopped by the Chicago Theatre on Dec. 7 to give fans the gift of live music, performing songs from the now classic album and 2016’s Christmas Party as well as selections from their non-holiday fare.
Much like old Christmas specials hosted by Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby – both of whom Deschanel shouted out for having signed the wall backstage at the legendary Chicago venue – the concert felt like a variety show, complete with special guests, questions from the crowd, and snappy seasonal banter. During an extended Q&A interlude, the evening’s opener, comedian Pete Lee, riffed with Deschanel on everything from the pain of stepping on Legos to the appeal of midwestern accents, and her boyfriend, Jonathan Scott of Property Brothers fame, even made a surprise appearance. Everyone who stepped into the spotlight shined as bright as a star atop a Christmas tree, but the night belonged to Deschanel and Ward who put their modern spin on everyone’s favorite holiday standards.
Touching takes on “The Christmas Song,” “I’ll Be Home for Christmas (If Only in My Dreams),” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” sleighed the crowd with warmth early in the night and “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” and “Sleigh Ride” provided Ward with the opportunity to share a few jazzy embellishments. A roadie with a Santa beard delivered a new ukulele to Deschanel and she used it to add a sunny flare to “Little Saint Nick” and more.
Backup singers Jessica Childress and Sara Mann joined Deschanel at the front of the stage and the vocal trio proceeded to impress with Andrew Sisters-esque harmonies on “Winter Wonderland” after taking the audience to Hawaii with a cheery take on “Mele Kalikimake.” Deschanel added a few Elvis-style vocal trimmings to “Blue Christmas”while Ward took the lead on the “Christmas Wish,” his smooth vocals wrapping the tune in silky simplicity.
Playing Jovie in Elf, Deschanel was told by Will Ferrell’s Buddy that she has the “most beautiful singing voice in the whole wide world,” after he heard her belting out the now cringey holiday classic, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” She & Him included the song on A Very She & Him Christmas and during the Chicago concert their tongue-in-cheek back-and-forth was charming, despite the tune’s inclusion of lyrics depicting sexual harassment, as Deschanel took on the “creepy part.” Ward called it the “most controversial song of the set” sarcastically adding that the duo is always “courting controversy.” They also shared some context to the tune’s origins revealing that it was written in the 1940s for a husband and wife to sing at the end of their parties noting, however, that the lyrics did not age well.
Earlier in the show, they offered “The Coldest Night of the Year” as a frosty alternative to “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.”
“It’s like ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside,’ but with clear consent,” said Deschanel.
Elsewhere in the show, She & Him took fans back to Volume One and Volume Two with “Black Hole,” “In the Sun,” and “Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?.” Each tune gave the band – Keith Hollis (keys), Mauricio Morales (bass), Danny Frankel (drums) – an opportunity to show off more of their rock chops. Ward’s solo hit “Magic Trick”provided a strong foundation for him to build upon with some heavier rockabilly soloing.
After the events of 2020, nothing can be taken for granted this winter. Being able to see Ward and Deschanel perform the songs of the season live on stage was a great gift for all in attendance.
She & Him will continue their Christmas Party Tour through Dec. 12. Tickets and more information can be found at Sheandhim.com.
(Photos by Laurie Fanelli)