Concert Review: Nellie McKay @ The Linda 06/22/2023

Nellie McKay transformed The Linda into an intimate piano bar situated somewhere in Greenwich Village, Harlem, or maybe even Montmartre on Thursday night.

All due to the stupendous range of material she delivered in an hour-and-a-half solo set, alternating between piano and ukelele.

McKay has a dazzling smile and a somewhat kooky persona, wearing a floral print dress that looked like something out of a fifties sitcom. But don’t let the quirkiness fool you. It does not mask her prodigious talent and amazing musical chops. McKay is quite simply an incredible pianist, handling jazz, blues, boogie-woogie, stride, pop, and everything in between, with a breeziness that belies the actual effort involved. Early in the set, she dispatched a finger-busting Teddy Wilson solo with consummate ease, remarking that he was known as the “Marxist Mozart” due to his activism, rare back then. McKay is involved in many political causes; she is a staunch feminist and a “proud member of PETA.” She recalled that the last time she was in Albany was when she attended a rally in support of Planned Parenthood and ended up in a bar. But she doesn’t preach, doesn’t lecture. She is happy enough to entertain by playing songs in various genres.

Eclectic? Well, name another artist who covers the great American songbook, The Kinks, Frank Zappa, Lennon & McCartney, Billie Holiday, Loretta Lynn, Marlene Dietrich (in German, yet), and The Cyrkle, all in the course of one evening. AND Herman’s Hermits!

She opened with a sparse and sultry take on “Sentimental Journey,” then had me won over by the second song, “Poor People/ Justice,” by Alan Price, from his fabulous soundtrack to Lindsay Anderson’s defiantly weird 1973 movie “O Lucky Man!” Yeah – eclectic.

The songs just kept on coming with stunning diversity, one moment McKay plaintively strumming her uke and singing “If I Fell” with heartbreaking fragility, the next, headbanging furiously as she pounded the keys with an incandescent blitz through “Compared to What.” Her performance of “Willow Weep for Me” was jaw-dropping in its intensity, starting out calmly and then doubling the time, her left hand a blur, hammering out the unstoppable bass figure.

Some of her smart, sharp, witty, and sophisticated songs were interspersed with the covers. If I had a minor gripe, I would have liked to have heard more of them; she is a fine writer. Also, more information about how and why she chose all those covers would have been welcome. She has recorded a Doris Day tribute album, “Normal as Blueberry Pie,” a sixties pop covers project, “My Weekly Reader,” and a standards album, “Sister Orchid,” yet made no mention of any of them from the stage. C’mon, Nellie, a little self-promotion is no bad thing!

In a cooler alternate universe, people would be bitching to Ticketmaster about not being able to get seats for Nellie McKay’s stadium shows. But until that becomes a reality, we should be grateful for the opportunity of seeing such a unique performer up close and personal in a venue like The Linda. Marvelous.

Set List:

  • Sentimental Journey
  • Poor People/ Justice
  • All My Life
  • Sunny Afternoon
  • Long and Lazy River
  • Hungry Freaks, Daddy
  • Drifting
  • One’s on the Way
  • The Best Things in Life are Free
  • If I Had You
  • Respectable
  • The Nearness of You
  • Lola
  • Suitcase Song
  • Willow Weep for Me
  • Pennies From Heaven/The Sunny Side of the Street (instrumental medley)
  • Toto Dies
  • I Cover the Waterfront
  • If I Fell
  • Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter
  • Red Rubber Ball
  • Black and Blue
  • Underdog
  • No Equality
  • My Romance


  • Caribbean Time
  • Compared to What
  • The Dog Song

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