On Friday, pop’s try-anything quicksilver girl Nellie McKay brings her “Follow the Money: An Election-Themed Show” to the Van Dyck (237 Union St., Schenectady) where she played a brilliant show last April.
Vulnerable and fearless at once, she dazzled two sell-out crowds then with her range and mastery. She laid out abundant musical gifts and imaginatively juggled them — like that guy flipping a chain-saw, a bowling ball and a sword in YouTube clips. She mixed it all so smoothly that nothing seemed surprising after a short while. There was deeply jazzy piano, a whisper-to-a-roar voice, soothing uke chords and a stunning, whiplash ability to toggle between achingly sincere and twist-your-funny-bone-hard humor. Drummer Kenneth Salters and bassist Alexi David steered with her through every detour and detail.
She sang venerable folk gems; sly vintage jazz; booming, hard-belted Broadway blasts and — most telling of all in light of her current musical/meaning agenda — 1960s pop tunes full of attitude: the songs on her “My Weekly Reader” album that she sang for real and for true on record and onstage.
Drugs and politics
“For me, the ’60s were about the drugs and the politics,” McKay told me last spring before hitting the Van Dyck.
Ah, the politics . . .
McKay has long aimed bold, often pop-bouncy broadsides from her soapbox of musical fame and success. Like our own late, lamented agitprop message/comedy crew Ladies Against Women, McKay goes deep deadpan on her song “Mother of Pearl,” for example: “Feminists don't have a sense of humor” — flexing her own funny-bone to formidable effect.
Her song “Columbia is Bleeding” attacks experiments on lab-animals at Columbia University, PETA-style. She’s played countless benefits and made many songs and videos for organizations, causes and candidates including the Coalition to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages, progressive (NYC) radio station WBAI, frequent presidential candidate Ralph Nader, Georgia death-row inmate Troy Davis and — during the current presidential primary campaign — Bernie Sanders, to whom she recently re-framed the vintage chestnut “You Made Me Love You.”
This is nothing new for McKay.
She sings, “Only wealth will buy you justice” in her own “Poor People/Justice” on “My Weekly Reader.” At the Van Dyck last year, she medley’ed this you-need-money-to-afford-justice broadside with Moby Grape’s (1968!) “Murder in My Heart for the Judge.” On the record, background sounds of racist offenses and protests erupt, including the Ferguson chant “Hands up!”
Hint of nostalgia
The only hint of nostalgia on “My Weekly Reader” is the British accent she slips on like a Carnaby Street outfit for “Mrs. Brown You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter.” Otherwise she plays it straight, mostly, as in the Steve Miller Band’s psychedelic-dreamy “Quicksilver Girl;” a sweet CSN “Wooden Ships,” transposed a bit, but gently and to good effect, the Cyrkle’s exuberant “Red Rubber Ball” and Country Joe and the Fish’s edgy love song “Not So Sweet Martha Lorraine.”
Also on “My Weekly Reader,” McKay re-imagines Frank Zappa’s “Hungry Freaks, Daddy” with its bitter lyrics of alienation and cultural corruption: “Mr. america, walk on by your schools that do not teach/ Mr. america, walk on by the minds that won’t be reached/ Mr. america try to hide the emptiness that’s you inside/ But once you find that the way you lied.”
To those points, McKay told me last spring, “I just think everyone is creative, but we just get the imagination beat out of us by school, by work, by the media — especially commercials.” She said, “Corporate free speech isn’t the same as personal free speech, and it’s getting stronger and stronger.”
McKay’s own speech in rebuttal will probably be strong, too on Friday at the Van Dyck — free, funny, punchy and pungent. 6:30 and 8:30 p.m. $22 advance, $26 door. 348-7999 or www.vandycklounge.com.
Brooklyn hip-hop artist/producer Oddisee brings new music from his instrumental album “The Odd Tape” to The Hollow (79 N. Pearl St., Albany) at 8 p.m. Wednesday.
As a rapper, he tells tales of everyday trials; as a producer he blends hip-hop, soul, and jazz into the sounds of Brooklyn.
Tickets are $7. More info: 426-8550 or wwwthehollowalbany.com.
Malian Afro-pop star-in-the-making Fatoumata Diawara plays the Sanctuary for Independent Media (3361 6th Ave., Troy) at 8 p.m. Friday ($25).
Now in her early 30s, she was a teenage film and theater actress who first sang in stage productions. She guested on many albums with Oumou Sangare, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Bobby Womack, Rokia Traore, Damon Albarn, Herbie Hancock and others before launching her solo career. Her album “At Home – Live in Marciac” co-stars Roberto Fonseca while “Fatou” is a strong solo effort.
More info: 272-2390 or www.mediasanctuary.org.
Reach Gazette columnist Michael Hochanadel at [email protected]