Nellie McKay | 08.07.08 | Texas

Words by: Sarah Hagerman | Images by: Dave Jackson

Nellie McKay :: 08.07.08 :: Stubb's BBQ :: Austin, TX

Nellie McKay :: 08.07 :: Austin, TX
The brazen Nellie McKay that released Get Away From Me in 2004 doesn't seem to be going through a mid-twenties mellow-out phase. Her amusing stage banter about being undecided in who to vote for, the Austin bats and her half-joking relief that no one was eating BBQ in front of her (she's veggie), shows she's still packing politics dosed with wry humor under her sparkly red flapper dress. Beneath her trademark Peggy Lee and Doris Day exterior beats a heart that's more in tune with Margaret Cho and Ani DiFranco. It's a juxtaposition that no doubt fucks with a lot of people's expectations.

I myself went into the tiny room inside Stubb's BBQ on a Thursday night not sure what to expect. McKay is a critical darling and cult figure because of her ivory tickling genre bending, and I've been intrigued to see her live for a while. The crowd was compromised of her devoted fans and a few of us who were simply curious.

You have to admire McKay's no-compromise guts. After insisting on a double album for her debut, she parted ways with Columbia in 2006 following a well-documented dispute. As a result, Pretty Little Head, another double album, was eventually released on her own record label. Her latest, 2007's Obligatory Villagers, was a scaled back affair, and so was this performance - just McKay, a Kurzweil keyboard and occasional ukulele. Although the show itself was a collection of songs rather than the sonic journey I normally gravitate towards, I was won over by her unabashedly unique vibe.

Her versatile voice warms like Dusty Springfield's over the smoky, jazz-based numbers. But McKay is an actress as well as a musician, with an obvious appreciation for musical theater (she appeared in a 2006 Broadway production of "The Threepenny Opera"), and character performance is quite strong in her vocals. Take "Mother of Pearl," where she performed the peanut gallery commentary ("Sing us another one!") alongside her tongue-in-cheek lines about how feminists "have a tumor on their funny bone." She plays a fiendishly deconstructive set of keys at times, throwing in odd bits of classical music and popular piano jingles as almost winking asides in the songs, sort of a parenthesis to the main line.

Lyrically, she's been compared to an off-kilter Cole Porter, or even Eminem. In cuts like "Sari," the latter's rapid fire verbal spewing is there for sure, while "Won't U Please B Nice" urges, "If we part/ I'll eat your heart." Or take the divine "Long and Lazy River" (maybe the personal highlight of the show for me). It's got a slightly meandering assonance that draws out the portrait of a relationship gone sour in some sweet little phrases:

Color me damned,
Feeling petrified, yeah
Tear up my plans leave me weather blight
Guess it's past
It's a flash from the other side
Fading fast, goes the mast
It's a better climb, all I had

It's a rare one who could follow-up a song like "Pearl" with a straightly delivered "Feed the Birds (Tuppence a Bag)" (yes, the song from Mary Poppins), or carry out an authentically moving cover of "A World Without Love" and then a funk number that could have easily been a B-side to "Monster Mash" called "Zombie." Ultimately, I respect anyone who just follows their passions down whatever road they may lead, and it's obvious that McKay follows that sassy, brassy pit orchestra in her head.

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[Published on: 9/10/08]

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sunnbear Wed 9/10/2008 03:58PM
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Dig that red dress!

ScIFreak starstarstarstarstar Wed 9/10/2008 04:11PM
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shanky95 Wed 9/10/2008 05:59PM
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Come on MAN!!! Stop being a stereotype Freak. Right? RIGHT? WRITE!! I know I'm being picky, but come on SCI, that is just plain dumb... just like your post.

snappy Wed 9/10/2008 07:11PM
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Always a pleasure to hear about artists doing something unique. The little taste i got at Outside Lands made me curious, and this filled in more blanks. As usual, nice work, Sarah.

mfouts starstarstarstarstar Wed 9/10/2008 07:16PM
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I happen to be a fan of Nellie and think she is original, intelligent and terribly entertaining- oh yeah and she CAN jam...on a piano! In this current music world of cotton candy over sexed women she is a refreshing sight and a great model for young women. I am thrilled to see a review of her on here! Kudos to Hagerman!

‹^› ‹(•¿•)› ‹^› {¬¿¬} Thu 9/11/2008 04:33AM
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‹^› ‹(•¿•)› ‹^›      {¬¿¬}

here cutesy style should appeal to legions of females.

and she is cute too.

shanky95 Thu 9/11/2008 07:32AM
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I wanna see a Grace Potter vs. Nellie McKay piano throwdown. Two amazing woman who can play the keys... Grace would totally blow her away, but still, two cutesies playing the piano is better than one. I'll watch Grace or Nellie anyday, preferably an afternoon set at a festy.

Astronaut Jones starstarstarstarstar Thu 9/11/2008 10:52AM
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Astronaut Jones

i'd rather see them in a pillow fight! and SCI, do you EVER have anything original to contribute or do you have your above comment permanently pasted on your clipboard? probably not since you only want to hear about jambands and jambands only.

ScIFreak starstarstarstarstar Thu 9/11/2008 12:02PM
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djacoustic starstarstarstarstar Thu 9/11/2008 12:54PM
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As a "hippie" you have to know that the essence of "hippie" is the ability to listen to and respect EVERY kind of music. You are a douschebag and are the reason I have dissassociated myself with the term "hippie". People like you have ruined the term. Nothing but spoiled tour kids with Daddys' money and an overwhelming sense of entitlement. Have you ever even been to a Phish show? If all of you guys would stop coming to shows and festivals they would all be much better. Hippies like you are about as useful as an asshole on an elbow. GET A GODDAMN JOB!

djacoustic Thu 9/11/2008 12:59PM
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Oh and by the way SCI...I watched the last great jamband walk off the stage after an incredible 4 day run at Red Rocks. That band happened to be SCI. (This bit of info to show you that I invest heavily into your "jamband" community)

rainydaywomen420 starstarstarstarstar Thu 9/11/2008 01:33PM
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Nellie McKay is brilliant, its sad there has to be so many weak minded individuals who feel the need to criticize things they just simply cant understand. djacoustic as much love as i have for the scene thats pretty right on point.

shanky95 Thu 9/11/2008 04:35PM
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^^ The above two posters are indeed on point. SCI is a little misquided, actually a lot. Excuse other people for having opinions, but I'm also one those "people" who thought the Lesh show at Rothbury was kinda weak. First set was fire, then he started playing his ballads during the second set and it lost steam. I would also like to see someone other than Phil closeout the mainstage at the next festival just for a change of pace. I think, being a "head" also means that you can accept other people's points of view as a valid human response and not shit on just because you don't like to listen to, in their opinion, QUALITY music. Open your mind up. The world, and the music community, are a much smaller, more blended space. Do you like Yonder? New Horizons freak... New Horizons. I'm OUTTY!!!!

ScIFreak starstarstarstarstar Thu 9/11/2008 07:31PM
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shanky95 Thu 9/11/2008 08:59PM
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‹^› ‹(•¿•)› ‹^› {¬¿¬} Fri 9/12/2008 03:38AM
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‹^› ‹(•¿•)› ‹^›      {¬¿¬}

jambase and relix and bonnaroo are all on point.

they cover the entire music community.

why else would you see conor oberst on the new relix? not jam.

why else could Kanye be at the roo? not jam.

why else would you come here to read music articles?

maybe you like more than just Jam sometimes? or maybe not.

I am happy I can read about stevie wonder one moment, then Jose Gonzales, then read about EOTO with members of tDB.

I love jambands the most YES. but I also like to not be jammed out sometimes, and kick it with the relaxing sounds of Jose Gonzales.

get over it, the music community is apparently all inclusive now and when you go to the Roo, just do not go see the bands you do not care about.

comment on everything you feel like here, thats part of being in the community, so what if our beliefs do not match up?

One thing that does is we all come to JB for music news.

djacoustic Fri 9/12/2008 04:21AM
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SCI Freak:

Nobody cares what you think dude. And once again...GET A GODDAMN JOB YOU WOOKIE!

ScIFreak Fri 9/12/2008 06:41AM
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^^^ WOW WHAT AN ORIGINAL ANSWEAR!! I don't think I've ever heard that one before! "Get a Goddamn job you wookie!" HAHA that's so Fresh! How are you so creative? You obiously can tell how I look like from a computer screen. You are ONE HELL OF A MAN! I think the reason you hate wooks so much is maybe because your just jaleous they get to see 200 shows a year and make more money than your pathetic little life in ONE PHISH TOUR! Or maybe your mom got screwed by one in the 60's, and he left you becuase your a little bitch.

djacoustic Fri 9/12/2008 10:15AM
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SCI Wookie:

You're exactly right man...I hate making $150,000.00 a year. I am so jealous of the wookies that spend all their time doing nothing but going to shows with their parents hard earned money. I have been on quite a few more than just one Phish tour my furry little unshowered friend. It doesnt matter what you look like to be considered a wookie. Its a frame of mind that everyone can clearly see you have. And I think the fact that the phrase "Get a job you goddamn wookie" doesnt sound original is because you do nothing productive with your life. Im sure you have heard that phrase! Do yourself and everyone else a favor and jump off a cliff. Oh and good job on going to all those Widespread shows. I bet they were awesome and Im sure that other 15 year olds will love to hear your stories of ripping nitrous balloons in the parking lot at Riverbend Music Center. Kill yourself.

shanky95 Fri 9/12/2008 08:00PM
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You guys are both pathetic and ridiculous.

djacoustic Sat 9/13/2008 09:18AM
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"The pot will call the kettle black. Its a drunken punch up at a wedding!"

DAMONCORY Mon 9/15/2008 10:44AM
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Get em, tuff guys.