Review by Andy Johnson, Photos by Elizabeth Parker
An abundance of locals braved the humid July weather for Thursday’s concert at Wolf Trap featuring indie pop groups She & Him and Camera Obscura. The latter, hailing from Glasgow, played a swift, wholly inoffensive 45-minute set to a half-full, sedate audience. Led by singer/guitarist Traceyanne Campbell, the septet—including several touring members—joked about the weather (“We never, ever, ever, ever,
ever, experience heat like this.”) between playing old favorites and songs off their new album, Desire Lines.
“Lloyd, I’m Ready To Be Heartbroken” might be the quintessential Camera Obscura song: Campbell’s supple voice reverberated melancholy yearning as the group struted along, alternating keyboard swells and catchy surf-guitar rifts. If there was a standout in the set, I’d highlight the wonderful, easygoing “Fifth Line To The Throne”, wherein Campbell opines, “If you want me to leave, then I’ll go / If you want me to say, let it show.” The acoustic-guitar driven “Desire Lines” was also notable, a gentle spritz of twee pop that freshened up the stuffy night. On the whole, this was a satisfying, relaxing set perfectly attuned for the Caucasian, Northern Virginia audience. The fact there was nothing to complain about other than the heat tells you everything you need to know about this performance.
In comparison to their opener, She & Him were far more dynamic. I’ve never seen The New Girl, Elf or many of Zooey Deschanel’s features, so I recognize I’m in the minority that views her as a musician first and actress second. Regardless of what one considers her primary occupation, I contend she should at least be given kudos for fostering two successful careers simultaneously.
Deschanel, accompanied by M. Ward, four musicians, two backup vocalists, and her flawless bangs came out about 9:15 for their nearly 100-minute set. Their first two songs, “I Was Made For You” and “I’ve Got Your Number, Son” were full of tambourines and handclaps, as one would expect. Interestingly, the female vocalists and male musicians (including She & Him) were segregated stage left and stage right respectively, like a middle school dance.
The duo’s original works, including “Never Wanted Your Love” and “I Thought I Saw Your Face Today” can be compared to the summery, country-tinged AM radio hits that Deschanel and Ward grew up on, so it’s no surprise that they included nine covers in their set. Mel Carter’s “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me” (written in 1952) and The Miracles’ “You Really Got A Hold On Me” (circa 1962) showed off She & Him’s retro chic scrump, but the nearly-a capella version of “Unchained Melody,” featuring only Zooey, her two backup vocalists, and some light plucking by M.Ward was the evening’s highlight, as the women’s voices intertwined like an intricate puzzle.
As Wolf Trap’s 11 pm curfew approached, the musicians rushed through the final third of the set. The lush “I Could’ve Been Your Girl”, the single from the group’s most recent album, Volume 3, finally unglued the audience’s butts. M. Ward also took lead vocals for his cover of Sonny West’s “Rave On!” and even snuck in one of his own songs, “Magic Trick.”
The evening concluded with renditions of three of their strongest songs, “This Is Not A Test”, “In The Sun”, and finally, “Why Do You Let Me Stay Here,” the group’s debut single. Camera Obscura reappeared to provide backup vocals for “In The Sun”, unwinding as they enjoyed the last night of their tour with She & Him.
The group returned for an encore featuring a cover of Blondie’s “Sunday Girl”, wherein Zooey adequately channeled another singer/actress: Debbie Harry. However, their last song in the encore, “Sweet Darlin,’” was one of the weaker songs of the night, causing most of the audience to head for the gates as storms began to swirl above us.
If there is one criticism to be made of Zooey’s vocal performance, while she certainly has a pleasant voice, it’s hardly overwhelming. Perhaps this is because she is part of a pair, and M.Ward’s guitarwork is as essential (if less praised) than Zooey’s voice. Therefore, it was someone surprising that She & Him returned for a second encore for a somewhat self-indulgent, but nevertheless engaging cover of Screamin’ Jay
Hawkins’ “I Put A Spell On You.” Here, the quirky manic pixie dream woman let loose, belting out “I put a spell on you / because you’re MINE,” holding the last notes for five, ten, even twenty seconds as lightning & thunder crashed. Almost the entire audience was standing at this point, ignoring the group’s no-photo policy as they snapped pictures of her warbling. It was strange and genuinely mesmerizing, a twist from the play-it-safe previous hour-and-a-half.