NEW YORK, NY- Sitting pretty in a pink chiffon dress and matching hair ribbon singer/pianist Nelly McKay filled her Joe’s Pub set on April 1 with an unusual mix of jazz, rap, techno, politics, and zombies. She tapped out tracks from her new album, Obligatory Villagers, along with a scattering of blues covers, several works-in-progress, favorites from her debut CD, Get Away From Me, and some bizarre theatrics.
Her stream-of-conscious lounge show included animated interstitials where she tackled topics like the presidential election. “The thing about Obama is he’s great,” said McKay in her cooing voice. “And he’s so attractive. You know that seals the deal. The thing about Hillary is, well she wants it so bad. I don’t know. I’m just going to feel like such a sell-out if I don’t vote for her…It’s just so hard,” she said exaggerating the point. “I’m glad you find my pain amusing,” she said interrupting the audience’s laughter.
McKay then charged into “Sari,” rapping “Sometimes I feel like I shouldn’t apologize so much” (and messing up the next few lines purposely, so she could apologize and begin again).
A techno version of “David” followed.
“I try to make these things fresh again,” said McKay about her older song. “I think I tried this once here and it didn’t come off, so I’m going to go for twice.”
McKay screeched out a few lines that resembled high-pitched Dolphin cries and improvised others. Ultimately, she acted out a scene between two people in a club. “Hey this is really crappy,” she said. “I hate techno music, don’t you?” “Yeah,” she said answering herself. “Let’s stay a few more hours.”
But no one stayed. Seconds later she transplanted herself in another era and a snappy, mind-blowing version of “A- Tisket, A-Tasket” began. McKay was so authentic channeling the nursery rhyme Ella Fitzgerald originally made memorable that it was as eerie as it was enjoyable.
Then a Ukulele appeared and McKay was suddenly playing the tongue-in-cheek “Mother of Pearl” from her new album. ”Feminists don’t have a sense of humor,” sang McKay. “Feminists just want to be alone. Feminists spread vicious lies and rumors. They have a tumor on their funny bone.” The song’s zinger comes when she tells feminists to “lighten up” and explains, “These feminists just need to find a man.”
During this endearingly bipolar performance, the songs that followed—a soft and lovely cover of “If I Had You,” “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans,” popularized by Louis Armstrong, and McKay’s disorderly “Inner Peace” all somehow worked together.
McKay summed up the night best when she was talking to herself. Hunting through stacks of songbooks and scribbled notes she said, “Isn’t she all over the place? Like what the fuck are we doing here honey?”
So when McKay ended the night with “Zombie” and her guest ensemble appeared, arms out-stretched and growling with vacant looks (think Shaun of the Dead), they oddly enough didn’t seem out of place.
But that’s McKay’s charm. Nothing is out of place. She’s a timeless paradox. An equal opportunity performer. She appeals to everyone. Even the walking dead.