Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Patrick Stolley
Nellie McKay is one of the most incredibly awesome weirdos you'll ever get a chance to meet. We say that with all of the kindest intention that one could give as all it really means is that there's no one like her anywhere. Go ahead and check. Back so soon? And you're empty-handed, just as we suspected you'd be. The New Yorker is a songstress who cannot hide her coat closet full of idiosyncrasies and oddities. They are ever present as her songs range from the Liza of Broadway lights, the soft-shoeing of some burgundy wine cabaret, to strange ukulele odes, to musical shakes at prose and comedy, to keen observations about men, women and the precarious and often hilarious predicaments that they find themselves slipping into every waking hour. These predicaments are made to seem even funnier and more amusing when McKay points to them in her very glamorously imperfect way - all the while emphasizing the imperfectness of all of the various, wily and often clueless characters that she's attracted to like metal filings to a horseshoe magnet. As heard in her songs - the latest recordings of which were released on the much argued about Obligatory Villagers in 2007 - McKay finds interesting approaches to all of the issues and subjects that she then dresses up in pretty play clothes and shares a romantic tea or a romantic handle of scotch. She puts her songs on the rocks and just lets them melt their way through, always traveling great distances before putting the ending punctuation on the final line. There are quirky numbers about feminists just needing to find their senses of humor - a message that feels bad in the middle for Hilary Clinton and McKay pens as a song approved by Dennis Kucinich, the wee former presidential hopeful. There are numbers, more often than not, simply about or for the feelings of delirious abandon that McKay allows her writing to stray toward. Always with a purpose and a half-blind seeing-eye dog, she moves all over the place, inventing different ways of making pop music for the piano and more while still making all that she writes explicitly unique and not at all contemporary. It's slung together with an unlimited breadth of imagination and is set on fire with snappy flare of the unexpected. The songs are never cursed by boredom or of a lack of a thousand different ideas all getting into the swimming pool at the same time, making a lot of splashing, some inappropriate touches and yet finishing out as a unanimously approved good time. McKay's heart is in the flamboyant and preening ways of the theater, drawing in the various lighting techniques and phrasings of someone trained in the art of presenting a show for an attentive live audience. Her characters and storylines are often over-the-top, but never cutesy and contrived as some in the theater can be seen. It's a bastardization of theater, old vaudevillian wackiness, R. Crumb crudeness and sensibilities of Don Rickles or Steven Wright, just with less anger and more perk. She's got a comedic timing to her words and an frantic, but appropriate pacing to her music that gives all of her songs the feeling that they're all runaways and that when you reach out to grab them, you'll just be left with a fist full of dust and some vivid memories that will then be replaced by the ones from the song to follow. It's one helluva experience delivered by a delightful weirdo every time she goes to the well and pays a visit.