Words and Pictures by Thomas Hauner
M. Ward: 19 February 2009 - New York City, Apollo Theatre
Bad news first; M. Ward seemed only marginally enthusiastic for his quick, first ever show at the esteemed Apollo Theatre and was beset with sound problems all night. The good news; Zooey Deschanel was nowhere to be seen. Thus, any She & Him songs would be less lionized, if M. Ward even felt the need to go there. Which he did, briefly, with “Never Had Nobody Like You”.
In general, M. Ward’s hazy country-infused vocals were equal parts sentimentality and robustness -- rustling and gliding over a gently strummed chord (“Lulllabye & Exile”) or guttural and assertive (“Vincent O’Brien”). His band, when summoned, perfectly paralleled his dynamic shifts and expressive gestures, sounding heavy and hard or light and soft depending on the song. Each time their balance and touch was superb. Tech problems showed up during Ward’s most delicate portion of the set (of course). During “Oh Lonesome Me” and the solo “One Hundred Million Years”, crackling cables plagued the bubbly flow of his guitar’s twang. Though he tried to overpower the obvious sound issues, even his forceful yet deft finger-picking blues could not defy the jolting crunches of a misconnected mic cable.
Time, and audio problems, practically paused for “Post-War”, as everything seemed to melt into the song’s gentle shuffle and Ward’s exposed baritone. We believed him when he sang, “I know when everything feels wrong”.
Maybe cause something was. Not that I could pinpoint its cause, but my friend and I seemed to narrow it down to the incessant technical errors and an overly belligerent crowd -- one that would not let Ward’s tranquil indie-folk rock be and kept demanding requests. Just let the man’s fragile muse work! This made the set anxious and rushed, clocking in at just over an hour. On the other hand, the pacing of his set didn’t of come as a shocker. An animated windowpane, projected onto the black backdrop behind the band, gradually progressed from dusk to starry night to dawn, an explicit indicator of where the night was going and when it would end. Conversely, it did give the impression of being included in some sort of late-night jam session with Ward.
Ward was at his best when loudest. The Daniel Johnston cover “To Go Home” (which included hollering Vivian Girls, the opener), “Big Boat”, and encore “Roll Over Beethoven” -- during which he summoned his inner Little Richard to play some Chuck Berry -- all had an air of indifference and movement that made them potently rock ‘n’ roll.