She & Him Throw a Christmas Party

IMG_1505The first time Zooey Deschanel sang a Christmas song for huge audiences was 16 years ago in the movie “Elf,” crooning “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” in the shower, eventually dueting with an unwelcome Will Ferrell. It was that moment that showed M. Ward that the actress could actually sing, and they eventually got together to form the duo She & Him, which continued to record originals and covers even as her star rose as the star of TV’s “The New Girl” for seven seasons.

The third album for the two was a Christmas release, as was their sixth, two years ago. That makes fully one third of the She & Him recorded output Yuletide music. So Christmas is a big deal for the her.

Hence a big “Christmas Party” tour that filled Washington, D.C.’s cavernous Anthem with good cheer if not completely with fans. A lot of them came in holiday finery so extreme there was a costume show and competition mid-show, hosted by the comic who opened the show Pete Lee, whose schtick is being a wide-eyed innocent, not unlike a certain overgrown elf Deschanel has worked with before. Six Christmas trees stayed alight on the broad stage all night and a huge 10-foot video screen looped a fireplace fire throughout.

Deschanel’s well-defined favorite holiday period was clear from her choice of the the 1944 Frank Loesser duet she did in “Elf” — the kind of mid-20th century, postwar pop standard popular way before her time — from about the time her father was born.

That lent a kind of draggy, melancholy haze to the first half of the show, weighed down with slowed versions of nostalgic standbys from your mom’s Firestone albums like “Happy Holiday,” “The Christmas Waltz” and “The Christmas Song.”

A California girl, Deschanel is also fond of the Beach Boys, so they threw in a couple of songs from their holiday album that fit in fine – from “Little Saint Nick” to the lesser known “Christmas Day,” with “God Only Knows” thrown in for good measure.

For as many familiar standards that they do, the two are good at finding obscurities, such as Bruce Cockburn’s “The Coldest Night of the Year,” which, like “Baby It’s Cold,” isn’t really a holiday song but a meteorological one.

It wasn’t until she  joined a trio with her backup singers to harmonize on “Mele Kalikimaka” and “Winter Wonderland” did her whole retro thing really crystallize. Any moment, it looked like she’d transport back in time to some overseas USO holiday party doing Andrews Sisters ditties.

Ward, for his part, was happy to take a back seat to the star, playing a twangy guitar in solos as if he were Les Paul to her Mary Ford. Only occasionally would he be called upon to duet, but when he was, it was a nice change of pace.

It also allowed them to bring back the song that sort of brought them together, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” a tune that lately hasn’t been entirely been in favor in recent years because of lyrics seemingly suggesting dosing a drink to make a woman stay against her will (“Say, what’s in this drink?”).

This time it was Ward who took the lead, making it seem as if she were the one doing the coaxing.

“It’s less creepy if a girl does it, right?” Deschanel reasoned. “She’s a woman who knows what she wants and how to get it!” Then she admitted, “no, it’s still creepy.”

Ward for his part rocked out solo when he got to Chuck Berry’s reindeer variation, “Run Rudolph Run,” NRBQ’s sublime and underrated “Christmas Wish,” or his own “Magic Trick” (“She’s got one magic trick … she disappears”).

The show began to come to life with upbeat rockers like Brenda Lee’s “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” and hit its stride when they started a string of songs from their own recordings — their well chosen covers of “Stay Awhile” and “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me” and their own “I Was Made for You,” “In the Sun” and “Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?”

Closing with the Mariah Carey “All I Want for Christmas is You” seemed as obvious as it was unusual – it was the newest song offered and one that’s actually so popular it defies irony. Maybe because it was patterned after a Phil Spector Christmas arrangement.

The night’s one real surprise might have been Joni Mitchell’s “You Turn Me On, I’m a Radio” that came before the expected hymns that closed the show in the encore — a near a cappella “Silent Night” followed by a “Joy to the World” that naturally morphed to the Three Dog Night ditty of the same name.

The setlist for She & Him at the Anthem Thursday was: 

  • “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)”
  • “Happy Holiday”
  • “Christmas Day”
  • “A Marshmallow World”
  • “The Christmas Waltz”
  • “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”
  • “The Coldest Night of the Year”
  • “Mele Kalikimaka”
  • “Winter Wonderland”
  • “Christmas Memories”
  • “(Everybody’s Waitin’ for) The Man with the Bag”
  • “Blue Christmas”
  • “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”
  • “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”
  • “Christmas Wish”
  • “Little Saint Nick”
  • “Rockin’ Around the the Christmas Tree”
  • “Run Rudolph Run”
  • “Sleigh Ride”
  • “I Can Hear Music”
  • “Magic Trick”
  • “Stay Awhile”
  • “God Only Knows”
  • “I Was Made for You”
  • “In the Sun”
  • “Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?”
  • “All I Want for Christmas is You”
  • “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me”
  • “You Turn Me On, I’m a Radio”
  • “Silent Night”
  • “Joy to the World” / “Joy to the World”
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