Review: M. Ward @ Sixth and I Synagogue

Ward, touring behind the newly-released Hold Time wasn’t content to stick to said album, instead offering a varied mix of his back catalogue and covers to compliment the new record. About as equally represented as his last LP, Post-War, the Hold Time songs sounded – at times – a bit rough, but that’s to be expected as Ward’s band learns to gel on the new tracks. The mix was awful as the band joined Ward on stage for Epistemology, perhaps detracting from what may have been an otherwise fine rendition. Later, it got better, but perhaps a synagogue isn’t the best place for a rock concert – there was a noticeable hiss even when Ward was alone on stage.

The show’s highlight came near the end, as Ward gave nod to one of his other bands. With little-to-no-warning, Ward started to pluck the chords to Change is Hard – one of the song’s from Ward’s project with actress Zooey Deschanel, She & Him. Ward slowed down the already languid song to fit his gravely vocals – switching out the appropriate ‘she’s” for ‘him’s” – and while it wasn’t quite as cheerfully lamenting as Deschanel and Ward’s version, it was a treat nonetheless.

And so began the Zooey Deschanel portion of the show, as Ward and the band tackled Deschanel’s two guest appearances on Hold Time, Rave On and Never Had Nobody Like You. The former, made famous by Buddy Holly, featured a hypnotizing – albeit brief – little jam, with the band doing their best to mimic Deschanel’s vocals. The latter sounded much tighter and cleaner than when the band played it on The Late Show with David Letterman, earlier that week.

The Hold Time vibe continued with set-closer To Save Me. On record, the track is a Phil Spector send-up, with a lush Wall of Sound. Live, Ward’s auxillary guitarist/keyboardist managed to mimic the song’s string section to near perfection, as Ward handled piano duties. At a normal show, To Save Me would have gotten the crowd up and moving, but – remember – this was at a synagogue, and most elected to sit, watching intently.

When Ward emerged for the encore, he treated fans to a solo piano cover of Daniel Johnston’s Story of an Artist, which he dedicated to anyone watching the Oscars the following night. “It’s Oscar season, so it’s time to start thinking of people like Daniel Johnston,” Ward quipped.

Then, the full band re-appeared for the now-required Magic Trick. Ward’s unofficial anthem of sorts, it was a fitting end to a brief – about 70 minutes long – show, with the hordes of fans filing out satisfied, and refreshed.

M. Ward
Sixth and I Historic Synagogue
Washington, DC

Set: Fuel For Fire*, One Hundred Million Years*, Prodigal Son*! (Rev. Robert Wilkins), Let’s Dance*@, Duet for Guitars #3*, Lullaby + Exile, Epistemology, Chinese Translation, Fisher of Men, Bean Vine Blues #2$, Post-War, Poison Cup, Undertaker, Change is Hard%, Rave On^, Never Had Nobody Like You, To Save Me

Encore: Story of an Artist*&, Magic Trick


* = M. Ward solo
! = Rev. Robert Wilkins cover
@ = David Bowie cover
$ = John Fahey cover
% = She & Him cover
^ = Buddy Holly cover
& = Daniel Johnston cover

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