On Thursday night, M Ward’s expressive songwriting and excellent guitar playing was on full display in front of a unique blend of fans at Orpheum Theatre — a makeup date for the October show he was forced to postpone because of illness.
While some may be most familiar with M. Ward as the “him” half of the Zooey Dechanel-fronted duo She & Him, the Portland-based singer-songwriter is also a successful solo-artist who has done a lifetime of attention deserving work before people paid attention. In fact, Ward has been performing for over 10 years, in concert venues all around the world, where his mastery of his craft seems effortless; and in addition he is part of supergroup Monsters of Folk.
With a healthy appreciation for his musical roots and a talent for speedy finger picking that calls to mind the greats of his favorite genre, Ward has proven time and again that folk-pop is in no danger of dying out, no more so than on his performance Thursday night.
The Orpheum was of course filled with eager fans, but it was not ridiculously crowded. M Ward’s band came out first: bass, drums, keys, and rhythm guitar. Ward immediately followed and kept it low key in both fashion and musical style. The stage set also included “windows” on the back wall where the outdoor scene kept changing – blue sky, sunset, starry night sky, trees, plants, city skyline.
Starting things off with “Post-War”, Ward’s voice – strong and clear – filled the Orpheum and captivated the audience: sad-but-hopeful vocals, this quiet opener was just Ward on guitar while the drummer provided a soothing beat. The band then played practically non stop for the first half of the show, delivering favorites from past albums as well as two of my personal favorites “Poison Cup” & “Chinese Translation”.
Yes, I’m pretty sure I was one of the few young folks in the room, but his music and lyrics are not particularly aimed at one generation or another. Thus, it goes without saying that every album possesses a unique fingerprint. Not everyone will appreciate the same style of music, yet that is what makes it such a wonderful phenomenon.
“Los Angeles, how’s it going?” M. Ward, said, smiling and looking out at the audience.
Occasionally pausing to see how the crowd was doing, Ward otherwise opted to let his immense talent speak for itself, with a little help from a spectacular three-piece backing band for most of his set. He seemed friendly as always, yet not psyching up the crowd with any hilarious banter, but an undeniable charm.
Together with his low croon of a voice and a multi-instrumentalist, he leads into “Watch The Show”, on which Ward sings as a lower-rung TV station employee. Ward’s vocals, always a hate-it-or-love-it bone of contention among listeners glided effortlessly from his baritone to a gorgeous falsetto.
But it’s Ward’s own considerable skills as a songwriter performing from the remarkably catchy “To Save Me” to “Primitive Girl” – the melodic single from his latest Wasteland Companion, where Ward declares “If you say ‘how you doin’? / She’ll say ‘I’m doin’ well’ / She’s a primitive girl / She says it herself.
As well as showing off his fantastic original material the band performed some fondly delivered oldies, which Ward’s soulful voice fits so well. He had the crowd swooning from the first words as he sang Buddy Holly’s “Rave On” from Hold Time.
Though softer songs such as “Clean Slate” and Hold Times’ “For Beginners” were most definitely not left in the dust, my only disappointment was that M Ward only did one solo. Fortunately, it was Duet Guitar #3, where we were treated to the marvelous warm sound of his finger style playing, accompanied by nothing but an acoustic guitar. Yep, It was glorious.
M. Ward then announced a special guest: Zooey Deschanel. The two performed a lovely rendition of Smokey Robinson’s “You Really Got a Hold on Me,” one of the tasteful covers that sprinkled throughout M Ward’s set.
The crowd continued to simmer even after the band exited the stage finishing with Wasteland Companion’s “Sweetheart”. The band then took the stage once more for an encore performance that did not disappoint, ending with Hold Time’s “Nobody Like You”.
I’ve never had much luck turning people on to M Ward. I can only hope you’re onto him already. If you are, I love you. He’s quite talented— his fingers blur across the fretboard— making it impossible for Ward to remain in the shadows for long.