Y Spy: Here’s Johnnie/Haf-Sac

Yes it does.

What: Here’s Johnnie/Haf-Sac

Where: Plan B, Bellingham

When: Friday, August 13th

The real star of Plan B’s Friday the 13th show was Billy Dee Williams.  Lurking in the shadows of the bar’s stage, the cardboard cutout of the Colt 45 spokesman managed to make its presence felt throughout the night.  While the show’s two bands tore through pop-punk (with a twist) and acoustic rock (again, with a twist), Ol’ Lando presided over the festivities, benevolently giving the night his blessing.

Here's Johnnie

After years of plying their grownup breed of pop-punk around the bars and basements of the Midwest, Here’s Johnnie has brought their game to Washington.  Their first show in their new home took place at the Plan B Bar, playing to a full crowd.  Whether singing about the living dead or breaking out drinking songs, Here’s Johnnie kept their intensity bright, yet throughout their set, the band mixed party chords with clever parts, with at least one member of the group left-fielding their role at any given time.  They weren’t afraid to leap into solos, play with time signatures or key shifts, or let songs go beyond standard single length, all of which snared those lured in by their catchy hooks.   “Get Right” was the night’s best example of how much the band could both honor and subvert genre conventions, its complex bassline leading the wails, speed, and smashing.

The set was much more than your average teen-baiting pop-punk.  Instead, Here’s Johnnie offered music set to appeal to those who at the very least can buy a beer.  Avoiding the expected route served the band well, and Here’s Johnnie made an excellent first impression.

Haf-Sac, Lando

The beatboxer who serves as Haf-Sac’s drum section was amazing, and without a doubt he is the group’s main attraction.  Still, as the show went on, the remaining members of the trio – the band’s bassist and its singer/acoustic guitarist – balanced out the act.  Though the beatboxer certainly lent the band a sense of the unusual, Haf-Sac boils down to an acoustic rock bar band that carried its performance with covers and irreverence.

If inserting the chorus of Cutting Crew’s “Died in Your Arms Tonight” wasn’t enough evidence of this, Haf-Sac offered up the Violent Femmes’ “Blister in the Sun” to excite the crowd.  It was pulled off well, though the beatboxing became unhinged in the fills.  Their original material included “The Beer Trilogy” (its conclusion being the wonderfully-named “Beer Shits”), and their final song was a moody audience participation number titled “Pussy Whipped,” where angry young men beat their belts against the ground.  And, bowing to Lando’s presence, Haf-Sac played “The Imperial March.”

The band put on a fun show, and its premise is both interesting and well executed, but some points in the set – especially toward the end – seemed to float by and didn’t stand out.  As a whole, the band didn’t really kick in until “The Beer Trilogy.”  After that, they kicked back and enjoyed the show, and that worked well enough.

Lando approved.

Damn Right.

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Y Spy: Jennifer McKee

Jennifer McKee

What: Jennifer McKee

Where: The Northwest Washington Fair

When: Friday, August 20th

Jennifer McKee brought an arsenal to the fair, and the result was a confident performance of country pop.  The seven members of her backing band carried her self-assured vocals with a flood of sound, which more often than not worked in the show’s favor.  The bass might have been a bit overpowering at times, and the guitars were a bit too soft, but the ultimate result was a slick, well orchestrated show that was built for a larger venue than the red bleachers on which the audience sat.

Love songs with such conventional titles as “Happily Ever After” and “Kiss Me Goodnight” seemed tailor-made for radio, yet McKee slipped in a few curveballs amidst the singles, most notably a self-effacing tune poking fun at her own celebrity crushes.  A few covers showed up in the setlist, and if there was a weak point in the show, it might have been McKee’s cover of Sheryl Crow’s “Soak up the Sun,” which didn’t feel as confident as the rest of the songs.

Throughout the concert, McKee led the proceedings with poise, working the crowd with a veneer both energized and cool.  While the band’s performance was excellent, McKee more than held up her end of the bargain, and the two elements played off one another and caught the audience.