(HUDSON, N.Y., November 30, 2013) – Nellie McKay overflows with talent and is so many different artists in one that her concerts are somewhat an embarrassment of riches. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially if your taste doesn’t extend, for example, to Doris Day songs or jazzy cabaret tunes. Because just around the corner lurks some of McKay’s dazzling rap-rock wordplay, or a country novelty about feminism, a dead-on Marlene Dietrich impersonation, or a reggaefied rap about the drudgery of work to rival the Clash’s “Magnificent Seven.”
McKay touched on all these aspects and a whole lot more in her headlining performance at Club Helsinki Hudson on Saturday night. Forming a jazz quartet with a bassist, drummer, and violinist, the curly-headed faux-ditzy blonde in a red jacket with a flower the size of a bouquet pinned to her lapel was a versatile entertainer and virtuosic pianist (who occasionally played ukulele – so be it).
Highlights included “All I Want Is Inner Peace,” one of her Elvis Costello-like torrents of wordplay that, in this case, satirized the New Age outlook in the face of outer catastrophe, and also featuring some great jazz interplay by the ensemble. Another tune married some Bob Marley-derived reggae to Cab Calloway call-and-response. A jazzy protest song lamented, “Every woman knows it’s a pose,” and morphed into Ethel Waters’s “(What Did I Do to Be So) Black and Blue.” How an entertainer who takes Doris Day for a role model in many ways (especially visually) can pull off this last number is beyond me, but McKay did it.
In a nod to the season, McKay offered a medley of holiday tunes during her well-deserved encore.
One last note – throughout the evening’s performance, McKay forgot lyrics, started songs over again, stopped songs and then restarted them later in the show, and apologized profusely for just being scattered and out of it.
This was exactly the same thing that Nellie McKay did in 2004, when, in the wake of her smash debut, “Get Away from Me,” she performed solo at the old Club Helsinki in Great Barrington, Mass. Back then, my review labeled her performance, “Nellie McKay’s Musical Meltdown.” As it turns out, this may just be “Nellie McKay’s Musical Shtick.” It certainly came across a lot more humorously this time around.