She & Him deliver a throwback throwdown
Sometimes the covers artists play in concert say it all.
Thursday night at the House of Blues, indie super-duo She & Him augmented its own delightful jukebox of sepia-toned pop, country, and R&B jams with versions of tunes by Smokey Robinson, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, Chuck Berry, and Ricky Nelson.
You could hear echoes of all of those artists and more during the spirited hour-and-20-minute show that varied wildly in dynamics from sexy slow duets (“Would You Like to Take a Walk?’’) to speeding locomotive grooves that enjoyably threatened to go off the rails from the performers’ excitement (“Riding in My Car.’’)
The first third of the night was a solid showing of what makes the partnership between indie-folk troubadour M. Ward and clarion-voiced actress Zooey Deschanel so strong, with the straight-outta-the-sock-hop “Take It Back’’ and the adorably angsty “Sentimental Heart.’’
But as good as it was, things really got cooking when the pair’s backing quintet left Ward and Deschanel alone to vamp it up. Getting vocally intimate on “You’ve Really Got a Hold On Me,’’ Ward’s sexy-raspy vocals drew ripples of shrieks from some of the women in the sold-out house. The Louis-Ella duet was full of swagger and whimsy.
When the band returned, the night was transformed into a full-tilt jamboree. Starting with the Ward solo track “Magic Trick,’’ the rest of the set was flooded with zippy backbeats, deep harmonies — many supplied by opening act the Chapin Sisters — winsome whistles, and Deschanel’s restless tambourine setting a pace that made it feel like they had to catch a train, in a good way.
By the end of the regular set the band had torn through a good chunk of its two albums, including a shockingly brawny take on “Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?’’ They capped the night by galloping into a galvanizing encore of Nelson’s “Fools Rush In’’ and Berry’s raucous “Roll Over Beethoven.’’
Sarah Rodman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org