100 Shows of 2010 - #42: She & Him/The Chapin Sisters @ 9:30 Club, 7/7/10

Please forgive me if I’m turning into a broken record, but there was a time, not too long ago, when for one reason or another, I wasn’t all that fond of female singers. Yeah, I can’t really explain it either. Thankfully, that period of unjust musical discrimination against my fair gender has passed, and I fully appreciate when one of my fellow ladies has serious pipes on her. As luck would have it, I was able to see not one, not two, but three such fierce little ladies do their thing last Wednesday, and it was, friends, rather an awesome spectacle. Between the raw, stripped down harmonies of the California dreamin' Chapin Sisters and the fantastical, retro country pop stylings of Miss Zooey Deschanel of She & Him, sisters were definitely workin’ it out. And yes, for those of you that were wondering, Zoeey was indeed wearing black tights. Even in the DC heat. Girl is dedicated.

MINI RECAP: She & Him = Be Still My Heart! The Chapin Sisters = Swing Low Sweet Chariot! Overall score: A.

The Chapin Sisters, brothers and sisters, are nothing short of magnificent. They walked onstage, resplendently reminiscent of the 70s with their long, pastel dresses and long, sun-kissed blonde locks. From the moment they opened their mouths, they did nothing short of blow me away. Their voices, o their voices. Breathy but so full, big and bold but delicate at the same time. Perhaps the most impressive thing about the sisters Chapin (Lily and Abigail, just so you know), is that regardless of the stage configuration, i.e. with acoustics and a tambourine or two, with backing from the gents of She & Him, or just plain singing, they will absolutely leave you breathless. Among their beautiful original material was a song dedicated to the “original bad girl, Britney Spears,” a cover of said Brit’s “Toxic”. Suffice it to say, the Chapin version is infinitely better than the manufactured original. If that sounds like a backhanded compliment, believe you me, it’s not. These ladies can outsing just about any gal out there. Those glorious, haunting harmonies are nothing short of intoxicating. They did ten songs in their set, and they could have done ten more, and still I would have wanted more.

After the too-soon departure of The Chapin Sisters, after a short interval it was time for the sold out crowd to welcome She & Him to the stage. I held off listening to the new record, Volume Two, because I wanted to hear it live for my first time. And I wasn’t sorry about that, no sir. It had been two long years since I saw M. & Zooey’s band play, not since the Virgin Fest of 2008. At the time, I decided that to me, Zooey sounded like a baby Patsy Cline, and my opinion hasn’t changed. They began with a wonderful rendition of “Change Is Hard”, and a dude near me made an epic understatement as he commented, “She’s got a good voice.” The sound was deliriously good, wistful, mournful tones of twang all over the place. One of the high(est)lights came early, with a seriously killer version of “I Was Made For You”, featuring the cooing and girl group stylings of The Chapin Sisters (who, adorably, had changed into outfits of charcoal dresses and black tights, to match Zooey). “I’ve never been to DC before,” proclaimed Zooey, before the band stormed through one of my favorites, “Black Hole”. I will forever love the sadness hidden behind the perkiness, and the line “I’m alone on a bicycle for two.” Glorious.

The first few songs were all from the first record, but the band soon mixed things up. The new tunes felt comfortably familiar alongside those from the first album, though they were definitely less country-tinged. As per usual, “You Really Got A Hold On Me” was stunning, with Zooey and M. trading vocals backed by an acoustic guitar. And oh, how the little ladies in the crowd went absolutely crazy every single time M. sang a note. It was incredible, the level of frenzied shrieks. “Brand New Shoes” was perfect. “Ridin’ In My Car” was perfect. And then they went and pulled an almost unfair trick from under their collective sleeve. “We’ve never done this song before but we’re gonna do it for you guys,” Zooey declares, before the band launches into an impeccable, irresistible cover of the Beach Boys’ classic, classic summer song, “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”. It was sheer bliss.

Looking back on it, this show was definitely in the top handful of shows I’ve had the pleasure of attending this year. Both bands really, really wowed me. The Chapin Sisters, well, they were just plain exquisite. Make their acquaintance immediately (hint: they’ll be back on the road later in the year). As for She & Him, they were even better than the last time I saw them. They’ve developed into one of the finest live bands around, if I may be so bold as to say so.

mp3: I Was Made For You (She & Him from Volume One)


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