Nellie McKay vs. Christmas trees

A trippy light show for a trippy artist: Nellie McKay and her quintet at New York's Highline Ballroom. (Photos copyright 2010, Steven P. Marsh)

Nellie McKay never disappoints. She did a spirited show at the Highline Ballroom on Saturday night, Dec. 11 with a full band that was as sharp, charming  and entertaining as any Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone? has seen.

Quirkiness is big part of Nellie’s shtick, but sometimes it hinders enjoyment of her amazing ability to interpret timeless pop songs and make important points with her own tunes. But at times, especially in her solo shows, Nellie’s seemingly absent-mindedness can overwhelm the show a bit.

Nellie McKay and her band.

At the Highline she was organized, focused and well-rehearsed. While there were a couple of false starts, there were no long, awkward pauses while she tried to remember the next song, or find a battered cheat sheet in her homemade fakebook. It was clearly a benefit of working with a band. With bass, guitar, drums, trumpet and trombone all depending on her for cues, there was less room for stumbling.

Nellie McKay duets with Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.

Nellie never pulls punches when addressing things that are important to her: the environment, animal rights, the horrors of fur. But even when she goes a bit too far, she never loses her charm. She performed an anti-Christmas Tree song, with lines like “please don’t chop another Christmas Tree” and “please don’t ax another evergreen.”  Okay, I can see the moral problems with Christmas Tree production and reasons not to support that system, but she lost me with the line “please don’t kill another living thing.” I don’t want to get political about it, but something has to die for every meal — even a vegetarian or vegan repast.

Click through to the jump for more photos and details.

Vince Giordano joins Nellie McKay.

As always, though, Nellie manages to disarm even the tough critics, ending the song with a cheery smile and a chirpy “Merry Christmas, everybody!”

The packed crowd seemed to love it all!

Nellie also brought a special guest to help her out a bit — Vince Giordano of the Nighthawks, whose regular Monday and Tuesday residency at Sofia’s in the Edison Hotel in midtown Nellie sits in on from time to time.

Her other guest was Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, who ended his bit by urging Nellie: “Let’s go kill a hunter!” All in good fun, of course.

Nellie McKay in the spotlight.

Nellie McKay at the piano.

Nellie McKay and one of her ukuleles.

2 responses to “Nellie McKay vs. Christmas trees

  1. Ya know, I am real sick of the sanctimony. Just shut up and sing!

    • Definitely a fair point. I’ve come to expect this kind of thing from Nellie and see it as part of her persona. I love her as a performer and I’m sympathetic to — although not always in agreement with — her causes. But the Christmas Tree thing takes things to the point of absurdity. That said, she’s entitled to her point of view, and we can vote with our dollars — quit going to her shows and stop buying her music — if we can’t deal with it.

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