The oppressive humidity of the day had finally given way to an actually pleasant evening by the time we got in the queue at Joe’s Pub for Nellie McKay’s late show Wednesday night. Some folks had just come from the Beastie Boys’ show in Central Park, some had rushed back to Manhattan from the Mets win at Shea and some looked like they had just woken up. By 11:30, the nearly sold-out crowd was seated, ordering drinks, relaxing in the plush intimacy that distinguishes Joe’s Pub as one of the city’s premier live music venues.
Shortly before midnight, Nellie McKay appeared from behind the velvet curtain hugging a cumbersome stack of sheet music that she plopped down on the baby grand. The 25-year old chanteuse, embodying summer in a flowing daffodil yellow tunic and roller-curled golden locks, took the bench and tinkled her way slowly into the brand new “Oversure.” The song is the second on her new album Obligatory Villagers, which McKay is releasing on her Hungry Mouse label later on September 25.
Next came the ode to a former neighbor “David,” a song I’ve always made believe she wrote about me (note to self: ask McKay if we possibly ever lived in the same building). In a moment of typical egotistical daydreaming—c’mon, we all do it—I imagined that she somehow knew I was in the audience and was serenading me. Of course, she has no idea who I am. But I digress.
The rest of the 20-plus-song set, which drew equally from new material as well as old, held the audience rapt (except the one drunk girl who mistook Joe’s Pub for the kind of venue where you can talk during the performance and heckle the stage. It’s not.) Crowd pleasers like “The Down Low,” “The Big One,” “Clonie,” “The Dog Song” and “Ding Dong” were mingled with soon-to-be faves like “Gin Rummy” and “Mother of Pearl,” which was performed complete with the tap-shoe “dance break.”
Ever the cabaret trouper, McKay busted out a ukulele halfway through the show for a trio of songs, including “P.S.— I Love You.” And, ever the animal lover, McKay sequenced “The Dog Song” with the pussycat song “Pounce” and the classic “Hound Dog”—the vegetarian version.
And, ever the activist, McKay took the opportunity to air her political views, soliloquizing about legal abuses involved in Columbia University’s quest for expansion. She even awarded prizes, giving a man in the audience a DVD copy of the excellent Chris Paine documentary “Who Killed The Electric Car?” for his correct answer on eminent domain.
After instructing the audience how to do the dance of the dead people, McKay closed the set with the new “Zombie.” The crowd acquiesced, like obligatory villagers often do, waving their arms in each other’s faces, imitating the song’s namesakes. At 1:15, McKay bounced back onto stage, took a few requests, and encored with a melange from her back catalog: “Really,” the hip-hoppy “Sari,” “I Wanna Get Married,” and “Work Song.” The medley ended on cue with a crowd-participatory, group-therapy-esque, incredibly effective primal scream. Everyone left smiling, seemingly well adjusted.