Took flyers on back-to-back live shows by singers I’d heard, but not seen: She & Him at the Arlington, Brett Dennen at the Lobero. “She” is Zooey Deschanel, and from “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire” her voice was shrill and over-mic’ed, unpleasant to listen to from the seventh row. As there was nothing going on besides her voice, it became a long night very early. M. Ward, the “Him” of the team, played a jazzy guitar accompaniment but remained in the shadow. Not as much as the background singers and musicians, who were 20 feet behind Zooey and poorly. She ran though a collection of Christmas standards listlessly, perhaps recognizing that Christmas was still a long 23 days away. After a short on-stage interlude that passed for conversation, She & Him shifted to their “catalogue,” which was bouncier and seemingly of greater interest to the performers. The voice was still hard to take, which was a problem, as Zooey’s voice, and persona as a chanteuse, is all that was on sale. Perhaps to avoid unfavorable comparison, the opening act, comedian Pete Lee, didn’t sing at all.
The opening act at the Lobero managed to top Zooey for loud and shrill, and since she didn’t believe in melody either we waited out her set on the plaza. Brett Dennen, finally, came on with some personality, and the vocal Lobero audience kept a fun conversation going. He played by himself, which muted some of his songs, but his lyrics were clear, his tunes catchy and his rhythms engagingly syncopated. I like the three or four songs they play on the radio, and they sounded good live. Everything he sang was at least “good,” although there was little that made me want to go home and start streaming. Mostly, I enjoyed his engaged storytelling; and the fact that he lives in Ventura and had a lot of friends in the crowd made it a pleasantly relaxed evening.