With Sunday night’s performance at Natasha’s Bistro and Bar, J String completed the journey from hot summer night lark to a winter night performance that attracted a good, enthusiastic crowd, despite a cold rain.
The conceit of the duo of Lexington cellist Jacob Yates, now a sophomore at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, and Cincinnati-based Broadway actress Jessica Hendy, is that they take big pop songs by artists like Lady Gaga and Katy Perry and reset them for voice and cello. It has worked well for J String over a quintet of web videos that have been modest viral successes, particularly the sleek production of David Guetta’s Titanium.
J String has a lot going for it, primarily a pair of extremely talented musicians and a unique concept: voice and cello pop duo. Add to that, they have tossed artsy snobbery to the wind and taken songs often dismissed as Top 40 confections seriously.
That may have worked best in their take on Britney Spears’ debut hit … Baby One More Time, in which Hendy really accessed the emotion of a girl pleading to get a guy to give her another chance. The duo’s take also accented one of the controversial aspects of the song, the lyric “Hit me baby one more time,” which Spears has maintained is not a reference to violence. But Hendy’s performance did convey a note of unhealthy desperation.
Throughout the 16-song set, she and Yates, to an extent, embodied their songs like a Broadway performer embodies a character. On three songs, they were joined by Cincinnati Conservatory senior Josh Tolle, from a piano-bar style rendition of Alicia Keys’ If I Ain’t Got You to a pointed interpretation of Radiohead’s Creep.
Yates was clearly on a cellist’s holiday ripping intricate solos in songs like Titanium and using a looping pedal for some very cool overlays.
There is no clear path for what is next for J String. They are hoping to book a New York gig later this year that could get them in front of some influential ears. Hendy and Yates have no designs on creating original material, though Tolle is a songwriter and clearly finds the combo inspiring. Maybe they will know they have arrived if someone takes a J String original and sets it to guitar, bass, and drums.
For now, it’s fun watching the group put on the hits.