She & Him Melt Away Tour – A Tribute to Brian Wilson @ Red Butte...
The only thing missing from this night of beloved tunes was Johnny Carson to introduce the set. The stage looked like something from the 1970s, paying homage to the colorful Beach Boys album covers and dimly lit curtains from The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. The night was a tribute show to Brian Wilson, the co-founder and writer of the majority of The Beach Boys discography. Most of the songs played were songs written by Wilson, either for The Beach Boys or for his own projects. The tone of the night was incredibly relaxed, romantic and probably nostalgic for some.
As a brisk chill set in, the crowd bundled together, cuddled their lovers and indulged in their picnics as they were serenaded. The opening group, JEMS, is a femme-trio of folk music who started the show with a sweet and charming set. She & Him comprises the duo of singer-songwriter M. Ward and cherished cutie to TV and folk music Zooey Deschanel. Deschanel surprised the audience with an appearance on one of JEMS’ songs. She stepped on stage in a floral, puffy-sleeved dress, and the four girls vocalized together over a simple piano and guitar line. One of the singers from JEMS also later appeared as a backing vocalist for the She & Him set, which I thought was cute. The rest of the band consisted of drums, a bassist who transitioned between stand-up bass and electric bass, keys & synth, and two backing vocalists.
Wilson, although not present, has praised the sound of the new She & Him album Melt Away. As of now, only two of the tracks have been released: “Darlin’” and “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” which were two of the opening songs. The crowd responded excitedly to the latter, one of the most beloved Beach Boys songs. If you looked around at the faces in the audience, they were all smiles, bouncing to the yearning lyrics of one of the greatest love songs of all time.
Deschanel changed outfits for the She & Him set to a lilac dress that made her glow. Her hands drifted to her sides like that of a Disney princess, as though she were floating. Sometimes holding a tambourine and sometimes a ukulele, Deschanel was stunning. Her vocals were incredible, especially considering the chilly, night air. She joked with the audience about how warm they looked in their blankets and then proceeded to look and sound perfect on stage.
My favorite song of the night, maybe other than “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” was “Don’t Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulders)” because of Deschanel’s vocal performance. I hadn’t seen anything like that from her in past releases, and for it to be a live performance where I experienced the song first made it shocking. She captured an Ella Fitzgerald alto tone, perfectly floating up to the high notes of the dreamy vocal line that Wilson wrote and carrying them with a fluctuating vibrato. When I went home and listened to the original song, I was again stunned at her interpretation. She made the melody move differently and, at the same time, captured The Beach Boy’s emotion in the rise and fall of each note.
Vocals are a huge part of The Beach Boys’ sound. They have a specific, revolutionary vocal tone and harmony for which they will always be remembered. She & Him paid respect to what is one of Wilson’s greatest writing strengths, and, at times, there were five people on stage singing along to capture The Beach Boys’ five-piece sound.
Sometimes the best part of a live show is going back and listening to the tracks of the songs you heard live. For some reason, you hear the recorded tracks differently after the live show. You associate the live energy you experienced with the studio sound. I don’t think I’m the only one who’s left a show and listened to the album the band played on repeat for weeks (or sometimes months!) afterwards, At a glance, I was bummed that I couldn’t leave and listen to the songs I had just heard. Although, I think part of the beauty of this tour is that the versions of the songs you can listen to are the originals. It took me a whole day of frustration to realize that this was probably intentional and actually so beautiful that they didn’t release this album prior to touring it. It’s a tribute—it’s about the person who wrote these songs. None of the hundreds that showed up to this chilly, scenic, dreamy show—or the thousands that will see this tour—would be there if not for Brian Wilson. –Mary Culbertson
Photos: Jovvany Villalobos // [email protected]
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