Since forming in 2006, the beloved duo of Golden Globe and Emmy nominated actress, Zooey Deschanel, and folk and blues singer-songwriter and guitarist, Matthew Ward, has released six studio albums, including 2011’s A Very She & Him Christmas, the 2021 tour serving as a celebration of the album’s 10th anniversary. Elated applause greeted the duo as they made their way onto the Ryman stage for a nearly two-hour set that entertained the packed house with a variety of holiday standards, alongside She & Him originals. From the moment the faux trees flickered on and Deschanel sang the opening notes of “The Christmas Song,” the eclectic Christmas vibe was set. Deschanel’s voice powerfully resonates in a live setting, as exemplified on “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” wherein the various textures and tones of her vintage-sounding voice translated, as if the song was tailor made for her. This continued on “Mele Kalikimaka,” as Deschanel and her superb background vocalists Sara Mann and Jessica Childress graced one other with Hawaiian leis before they lit up the Ryman stage with their stellar harmonies that allowed the island greeting to sing mellifluously, leading into an equally noteworthy rendition of “Winter Wonderland” that cooled down the tempo, their voices embodying the festive winter chill of the timeless tune while making it feel fresh and new.
Throughout the robust set, the duo offered a healthy dose of nostalgia with numbers like “Christmas Day” and a cover of Frank Sinatra’s tender-hearted “Christmas Memories” that brought a moment of pure reflection as they sang, “I close my eyes and see shiny faces / Of all the children who now have children of their own / Funny, but comes December / And I remember every Christmas I’ve known.” A consistent theme throughout the night was the way Deschanel and Ward blended the memories of Christmas with a modern flair, as demonstrated by “The Coldest Night of the Year,” a modernized take on the controversial, “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” “but with consent,” Deschanel joked of the tune wherein they’re both “victims of the weather” and suggest they consensually “cuddle up” on the wintery night. But they also offered their own take on the original 1944 duet, reversing the gender roles where Deschanel took on the male verses and Ward filling in for the female singer in an effort to “make it so the girl is the creepy one. Equal opportunity,” Deschanel said with a smile, their gentle voices and clever role swap making the undeniably creepy lyrics feel slightly less threatening.
Also on full display was the New Girl star’s signature quirky personality, particularly when acknowledging that She & Him have been together for 15 years. “Did the Beatles even last this long?” she quipped while inaccurately suggesting that it was John Lennon’s birthday (he was in fact born on Oct. 9). Admitting to having a tendency to make things up in her head, Deschanel sent herself into a fit of giggles that brought the first verse of “The Man With the Bag” to a halt, but she managed to power through and finish the number. After a classy cover of Elvis Presley’s “Blue Christmas,” which they dedicated to 8-year-old fan Hazel in the audience who revealed that it was her first concert, the twosome delivered a set of She & Him originals including “Black Hole” and “I’ve Got Your Number, Son” that accentuated Deschanel’s smoky vocals and Ward’s craft musicianship.
They closed out the show with a reimagined version of Mariah Carey’s wildly popular “All I Want For Christmas Is You,” giving it a retro flair. But it wasn’t long before they returned to the stage for a multi-song encore, honoring the historic venue’s reverence with an a cappella rendition of “You Really Got a Hold On Me.” A silence fell upon the room as they used only their voices and soft acoustic guitar, capturing the spirit of the revered space that Deschanel cited as “one of the most special venues in the world.” After a beautiful offering of “Stars Fell on Alabama,” they officially wrapped the show with a holiday finale mashup of “Run, Run Rudolph” that gave Ward and his blues-leaning guitar skills a moment in the spotlight, while Deschanel led a haunting rendition of “Silent Night” and “Carol of the Bells” with Mann and Childress, ending the evening with a vibrant rendition of Madonna’s “Holiday” and Three Dog Night’s “Joy to the World” that they turned into a joyous revival, akin to one that would’ve imaginably taken place inside the Ryman when it opened its doors in 1892, leaving the audience with lively spirit likely to remain all season long.