It was couples night at the Hollywood Bowl if there ever was one - three boy/girl pairs lit up the stage for an evening of vigorous tambourine, jumping jack dance moves, and heartfelt crooning. LA band The Bird and The Bee, indie darlings She & Him, and Oscar-winning duo The Swell Season packed the auditorium with hipsters, young families, and a few stars (Colin Farrell and John C. Reilly were spotted in the audience). None of the pairs are actually romantically involved (either married to other people or recently broken up in the case of The Swell Season), but the entire show felt like one big triple date.
When Los Angeles natives Inara George and Greg Kurstin of The Bird and The Bee opened, picnic baskets and bottles of wine were still occupying most of the audience. Still, the crowd perked up mildly when they played their 2009 hit "Love Letter To Japan" from their second album, Ray Guns Are Not Just the Future. Inara, her guitarist, and the three accompanying xylophone bells percussionists at times played like an aloof lounge act, casually side-stepping to some songs as their somewhat out-of-place sequins glittered in the afternoon light. Producer and keyboardist Greg Kurstin remained low-key throughout, mainly concentrating on piano. The only time he got up was to bring his baby (with appropriate infant-sized ear muffs, of course) to sit with him at the keys for their final song, "Polite Dance Song."
Watching She & Him perform was like watching a family band play at a 1950s prom. Singer Zooey Deschanel was decked out in a one-shoulder turquoise party dress with a big bow, while producer/guitarist M. Ward was in a slim tan suit. The Chapin Sisters band backed up the group with harmonies, tambourine, and egg shaker. The band's retro stylings gave way easily to covers like "You Really Got A Hold On Me," and lyrics like "I'm alone, on a bicycle for two," brought the audience back to a time when pop songs were guileless. At times, the music was so safe and precious-sounding that it seemed like the band was angling for some kind of children's movie soundtrack deal. Still, it was easy to see why fans have rallied around Zooey Deschanel and her unlikely career as pop-singer. Her brand is delicate and beautiful, and slightly awkward in a cute way. She & Him finished with a witchy cover of "I Put A Spell On You," showcasing Zooey's vocal range while also putting the audience on edge, wondering if she would finish those strenuous final notes.
The first few opening bars of The Swell Season's set made it clear that the children had been put to bed, and the adults had come out to party. After The Bird and The Bee's fluffy synth-pop and She & Him's doo-wop lullabies, Glen Hansard came out in full force. In the first song, he dropped a verse of Jeff Buckley's "Grace" in the middle of a cover of Tim Buckley's "Buzzin' Fly," ending with a violent frenzy of brassy guitar strumming. Throughout the concert, Marketa Irglova supported with low harmonies and piano (her classical training was evident). In contrast to the leading ladies of the first two bands, Marketa wore a drab, shapeless long dress over a dark, long-sleeved tee. The audience roared when they slipped in to their 2007 Once hit, "Falling Slowly." Before the song, Marketa talked about their Oscar surprise humbly, still visibly touched and full of gratitude for the honor. She also said hello to Colin Farrell from the stage, who had introduced the pair at the Oscars before performing their hit song. The concert was punctuated with several singalongs, Glen guiding the auditorium through a few haunting melodies to supplant the band. At encore, Glen ended the night with an Irish wake song called "The Parting Glass," both to close out the concert and to remember a friend of the band that had recently passed: "I gently rise and softly call / Good night and joy be with you all."
All three indie bands have enjoyed success in mainstream movies or breakout independent films. The Bird and The Bee have a cover of the BeeGee's "How Deep Is Your Love" on the Sex and the City film soundtrack, She & Him were able to cross-promote their band on singer Zooey Deschanel's film 500 Days of Summer, and The Swell Season was formed after the 2007 Oscar-winning film Once, where musicians Glen Hansard of the band The Frames and classically trained Czech musician Marketa Irglova met and fell in love.