New York singer Nellie McKay, back for her second visit to Eugene in less than a year, played to a tiny crowd tonight at the Shedd, though you wouldn’t have known it wasn’t a sellout from the energy in the room.
McKay is known for her intelligent, quirky and literate music, and the 70 or so people who showed up on a Wednesday night to hear her sing were true fans all.
Last spring she and her band were here with her noirish one-woman musical sketch of ’50s murderess Barbara Graham, her story based on the old Susan Hayward film “I Want to Live.” This trip she played solo, no band to back her up, and pure McKay was pure pleasure. She’s a fine jazz pianist and worked her way through and around a dissonant keyboard accompaniment to “I’m as Corny as Kansas in August” that was miraculous to hear. McKay played piano for half the show, ukelele for the other half, and had the audience’s heads spinning for the whole thing. Opening with a lovely and straight-up “Sentimental Journey,” she set the scene for what she excels in: bright, twisted, intense, introspective, funny and truly unexpected lyrics, with moments of simple beauty woven into her tapestries of love, social commentary and pure silliness.