Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Nellie McKay hugged me.....twice

Sometimes talking to musicians inspires me to take on the persona of a starry-eyed fan. Or maybe that mindset is constantly below my mental surface at all times. Either way it explains the title of this entry, which exists with tongue firmly wedged in cheek, as Ms. McKay would hopefully expect.

Anytime I introduce myself to a musician after having interviewed them by phone and then writing about them, I always wonder about two things - will they remember me among a sea of recent interviewers, and will they object to what I wrote about them? So it was a nice surprise when Nellie McKay stood up from her spot at the merchandise table, leaned across and gave me an appreciative hug after her first show at the Warhol on Saturday. She was as charming offstage as she was on.

And her first show, where she played tunes from Normal As Blueberry Pie - A Tribute to Doris Day overflowed with charm. And clever arrangements. It was great to hear those songs done by a small group and not only bring out all the nuances of the writing, but do that while keeping the focus on the vocals. She had guitar, bass, drums, trumpet and tenor sax along with her piano, though the horns only played here and there (they had just joined the tour very recently). When they did "Sentimental Journey," it sounded nice and slinky, with mallets on the drums and Bill Frisell-ish guitar from Cary Park - yet all music pointed towards Nellie. She played one non-LP song that had something in the lyrics about "early autumn" which sounded amazing, both as a song and starkly beautiful performance.
The one time things veered towards the cute side occurring during "A-Tisket A-Tasket," which was built for that anyway. McKay got a little squeaky during the call-and-response section with the guys. Right before this song she also quipped that not only could she not find the museum (they were late getting back from their Green Tree hotel), she could find the piano as she stumbled away from the center stage mike to her keyboard. (See previous Nellie installment for reference.)
For the second show McKay changed from the proper, Doris Day-inspired pink dress to a dark red get-up that fell off the shoulder and fit the mood but still would've looked okay on Ms. Day. She virtually played her new Home Sweet Mobile Home album from start to finish, which is fine because it's a really strong release. "Bruise on the Sky" makes an excellent, foreboding opener (with a line that rhymes "follow" with "Charo") and leads right into the uke-driven "Adios" with its biting chorus line, "May you lie yourself to sleep tonight." When she does reggae, it has serious weight to it, and even the light-hearted "Bodega!" (which has an inverted exclamation point at the beginning) has some serious moral underneath.
I was worried during the slick funky "No Equality" when the band took a right turn and launched into a scorching version of "Purple Haze," and McKay started doing hippie hand jive moves (not the first time during the set). If she starts trying to rock out, this could be bad, I thought. Turns out it was just a digression before hitting the last riff of the original song. That changed everything from a potential train wreck to a witty coda.
McKay has the between-song banter down pat. She talked about her dog Charo - the one referenced in "Bruise on the Sky" - describing her as being very much like Joan Crawford, going on to imitate the dog doing a classic bit from The Damned Don't Cry. Later she made bassist Alexi David do an imitation of William Shatner reciting "Till There Was You," which was spot-on. She also forgot the words to some of the non Mobile Home songs that worked their way into the set. Yes, she's prolific as all get-out but when I was her age, I never forgot lyrics. Those tunes included "David" from her first album, which drew applause as it started, and "The Dog Song."
I was the first person to the merch table and she started to tell me that if I'm ever in New York to look her up, or she'd buy me a drink if I wanted one.... I wanted both but there was a line forming, led by a guy who was already holding her hand, so I put her off.
Which blows because I could've used another drink.
Call me, Nellie. Your publicist has my number.

No comments: