Nellie McKay
at The Point,
Bryn Mawr, PA
(26 February 2004)

In support of her just released CD, Get Away From Me, Nellie McKay played The Point in suburban Philadelphia in a record label-sponsored showcase performance. Judging by the somewhat zealous advance promotion of this show by the local radio station, non-commercial WXPN-FM, it's obvious that the record won some early converts on the station staff. This, combined with the show being free to the public courtesy of Sony, resulted in a turnout greater than the venue's capacity and some unfortunate folks had to be turned away at the door.

The lucky ones who arrived early watched as McKay calmly took the stage solo, sat down at a Kurzweil keyboard and, armed with nothing other than the keyboard and a microphone, totally owned the room. The power of her vocal delivery was matched only by the virtuosity of her piano playing, which combined with her wonderful songs to keep the audience in a near constant state of dropped jaws for the 80 minutes or so that she played.

McKay sang 13 of the 18 songs on the record, matching or surpassing in all cases the recorded versions. As great as the record is with its consummate production, McKay proved with her performance that the talent is all hers. Her big grin and her intense dark eyes and her commanding vocal and instrumental ability conspired to render a performance that literally took your breath away. She can even do the rapidfire lyrics of her rap-style verses live seemingly without missing a beat or a word, which is a feat in itself. Right from the top, the audience could tell that this would be no ordinary concert, as McKay did the dog panting and hand-tapped percussion in "The Dog Song."

McKay's stage presence was friendly, humorous and appealingly unpolished. She introduced "Toto Dies" by explaining that "Toto doesn't really die, it's just a metaphor, so in reality Toto lives." While switching the order of two of the songs, she mentioned that her mom did the set list. Slow songs such as "Manhattan Avenue," "Really" and "I Wanna Get Married" were performed with their powerful melodies and lyrical ironies intact. Fast and wordy songs like "David," "Sari" and "Inner Peace" were played with all the fire of the recorded versions, if not more. All of the songs were enhanced by the vision of McKay's cute expressive face as she sang. Her look is carefully orchestrated, but underneath the old-fashioned hairdo, the Mary-Kate and Ashley eye makeup, the giant dangly earrings, the black business skirt suit and knee-high boots (bought by mom at the Mount Pocono Wal-Mart) is one very pretty girl.

I had the chance to meet her after the show and although it's hard in such conversations to avoid cliche, she seemed genuinely nice and refreshingly unrehearsed in dealing with the attention she is receiving. Mom was there too, handing out a disc containing a song that McKay wrote to protest the treatment of laboratory animals at Columbia University. Just about everyone in attendance left wondering the same thing -- just how on earth does someone achieve this level of musical ability and compositional talent at such a young age (19). Nellie McKay is a disarmingly charming delight.

- Rambles
written by William Kates
published 15 May 2004

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