It was a special night July 18 when the Hollywood Bowl welcomed The Bird and The Bee, She and Him, and the Swell Season to its stage. Ostensibly made up of keyboardist extraordinaire Greg Kurstin and Inara George (daughter of Lowell), the Bird and the Bee are called a duo but opened things up as a full on band. From the back up singers’ cool harmonies and cooler outfits (four girls wore the same black dress, each with different brightly colored tights) to the upbeat bass-driven synth pop sound, to Inara’s winsome bopping around, it was an infectious performance that we wished had been longer. To top it off in the charming department, Greg ran off stage to grab his toddler baby girl who sat on his lap at the grand piano (with headphones on) as he deftly finished the last song.
She and Him (made up of actress Zooey Deschanel and guitarist M. Ward) hit the stage next. Retro pop songs, top-notch musicians, and the Chapin sisters’ hopping back-up singing made this much more than a duo as well. But we liked it best when it was just the two of them, showcasing the combination of their voices, with M. Ward playing a vintage acoustic Gibson. Zooey seemed nervous but showed more emotion when torch singing solo at the piano—her voice on “I Put a Spell on You” was worth the whole show.
And then there was the Swell Season. Comprised of Glen Hansard and Czech singer and pianist Markéta Irglová, they are the songwriting duo who won an Oscar two years ago for “Falling Slowly,” one of the songs from the movie Once. It was like a fog lifted when Glen’s battered acoustic guitar and voice hit the audience. It was the first time all night you could understand the truth in every word, Markéta’s sweet and haunting harmonies completing the emotional performance. Swell Season opened the show with a resounding cover of Tim Buckley’s “Buzzin Fly,” and then moved into the soul-stirring “Low Rising” from their latest release, Strict Joy. Other highlights were Glen’s impassioned solo performance of “Leave,” their reverent version of Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic,” and the perfect harmonies of “I Have Loved You Wrong.” It was good to see Markéta come out from the piano and sing up front on her own, and both made references to the significance of playing here in L.A.. He told us he felt that in the past Los Angeles had seen them at their most wanting, and he’d always hoped to “play this town properly.” She spoke of an astrologer who told her she should appreciate Los Angeles more, that it would be a city important to her future. No one could have predicted the overwhelming truth of both those statements. During the encore, they covered Bruce Springsteen’s “Drive All Night,” then segued into a traditional Irish tune, with the whole crowd following Hansard with the words “Good night and joy be with you all.” It was a magical California summer night under a beautiful half moon, when all you needed was the music to keep you warm.