Nellie McKay has an album coming out this fall, but her show at Largo on Thursday night exhibited none of the angst or drama that accompanied her 2005 Troubadour show, where she railed against her label, Sony, and the music industry in general, over how “Pretty Little Head” would be released.
It was a (relatively) calm McKay who previewed a few songs from the Vanguard release, tentatively titled “Mother of Pearl” or “Femme Fresh” (a poll of the aud for their fave proved inconclusive). The new songs are similarly at ease, whether it’s the banging, Brill Building novelty of Zombie dance or a swaying pop soul tune that included the line “I saw Jesus on my toast today/he told me to eat it anyway.”
The rest of the New Yorker’s 90-minute set mixed songs from her previous albums (including the lovely “Long and Lazy River”), covers of standards (“Paper Moon”; “Don’t Fence Me In,” introduced as a “songs about illegal immigration”; and “If I Were a Bell,” performed as a babydoll homage to Blossom Dearie) and stream of consciousness commentary, both self-deprecating and political, delivered in the speed-talking, breathy style of a smart and creative New York girl.
What was most exciting to her was the way the voicing of the chords on a few of the new songs and the slashing phrases on tunes such as “Inner Peace” reflected her experience playing Polly Peachum in last year’s Broadway revival of “The Threepenny Opera.” On more than a few of the tunes, she sounded like an intriguing mix of Laura Nyro and Brecht/Weill.
It was good to see McKay back on point; she has only begun to plumb the depths of her talent.