Nellie McKay gets standing ovations even when she forgets the words
Nellie McKay launched her gig at Nighttown last night by rushing in just as her name was announced, weaving through the restaurant’s standing-room-only crowd to reach the piano. She took off her coat, apologized for the disheveled back of her head (she said it looked like a “before” commercial) and started to play.
That’s all it took for the jazz/pop/rap/whatever-the-hell-she-wants-to sing phenomenon to win hearts. McKay’s show, just like her music, is composed of incredible talent mixed with layers of irony -- and, as she admits, you can never have too many of those…
“I don’t know why they all came here,” she stage-whispered to her band mates, pretending the audience couldn’t hear. “Even basic cable has so much to offer.”
Her voice, of course, was the main event. A tinge of July Garland, a hint of belting blues, lots of honey-sweetness to temper the sarcasm -- it’s much better live than YouTube recordings would suggest. Even when it’s just her vocal chords and a lightly strummed ukulele, as with the heart-breaking “If I Had You.”
But what makes her so ridiculously fun to watch is her comedy, both in her songs and her commentary. She sings (and pants) about walking her dog, feminists who don’t see the humor in child molestation, and illegal immigration.
At one point, she had to borrow CD liner notes from a guy in the audience so that she could remember the words to “Identity Theft,” a rap on her new album (lyrical highlight: “Because I'm tired of being sweet and nice/F**k you once and f**k you twice.”) What other performer can forget the lyrics, repeatedly stop and start over to get her songs right, and still elicit standing ovations?
The guy who lent her his CD said he didn’t mind standing through her entire her set. She wasn’t impressed. “You don’t have a uterus,” she shot back. Ah, Nellie. – Lisa Rab