This performance was the first show of the Very She & Him Christmas Party tour and the first UCSB Arts & Lectures event at the Arlington in 21 months — both great reasons to celebrate. Zooey Deschanel and Matt Ward have crafted a fun evening of music and comedy that’s an up-to-date version of the holiday variety shows that once ran on network television. The focus is not so much on Zooey Deschanel, the movie star, as it is on Zooey Deschanel, the singer, whose big, clear, confident voice filled the Arlington and the songs with sophisticated dividends of nuance and emotion.
Comedian Pete Lee’s warm-up set and brief mid-show guest appearance made him a good foil for the hip pair. He played up his Wisconsin-nice background while still tossing some sharp cracks at Santa Barbara’s posh image.
Deschanel, Ward, and their quartet of musicians (plus two terrific backup singers) mostly stuck to the holiday program. However, there was an interval set aside for some of She & Him’s original material. The setlist covered a lot of ground, all the way from “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and “Winter Wonderland” to the Beach Boys’ “Little Saint Nick” and Brenda Lee’s “Rocking Around the Christmas Tree.”
The now-controversial “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” which was on the first She & Him Christmas album, came with a trigger warning from Deschanel about consent and was done, as on their record, with genders reversed. Suffice it to say that She & Him did “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” with plenty of implicit self-awareness long before the song became the occasion for a public conversation.
Highlights included some brilliant three-part harmonies a capella and an excellent encore duet on “You Really Got a Hold On Me.” Another high point came after Deschanel shared that while she was vacationing in Montecito last week, she heard the She & Him version of Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You” in the Country Mart. It made her day, and then she sang it live, making ours. That’s some great Christmas spirit right there.