Credit: Amos Perrine

Credit: Amos Perrine

Nellie McKay is a lollapalooza.  She is brilliance and bite all wrapped up in a package that looks so sweet that the proverbial butter will not melt in her mouth.  Such a package is deceiving in the extreme.

This is a woman whose spirit is a heat-seeking missile.  With nothing up her sleeve she will look you in the eye and give you a one-two punch before you have time to exhale.

Her repertoire is eclectic.  There is no predicting what is going to come out of that pretty little head… A Little Bit Later On becomes a stride piano version of After You’ve Gone and then Black and Blue.

You will notice a microphone placed strategically in front of the piano, and a few minutes into the performance McKay moves to it and you realize that the microphone is set to amplify her ukulele.  Yep.  She makes this little box of wood and string sing like a nightingale.  The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea is dedicated to McKay’s “Arch nemesis” Barbara Cooke.  A haunting Celtic sounding tune, and Adios, which is a sad and mournful take of regret.  Louise  (Every little breeze….) follows.  And there is Moon River sung in Portuguese.  Seriously?  Oh yeah.  Pretty soon you forget that this woman is playing a ukulele at all.  You are simply in her spell and happy to be so.

She melts back into the piano with I cover the Waterfront, and you hear, for perhaps the first time, of a woman yearning for her love under the cover of the stars in the sky.  And follows this up with a pure and perfect Skylark.  Well, almost.  She detours into a rap song with a few “mother-fuckers” before she suddenly sounds like Carol King on a mellow bender.

McKay closes the evening with a trio of her best – well, not her best but let’s say her most relaxed.  She hunkers down and finally looks at us as she serenades us with the gentlest of tunes that are subversive as all get out.

I Wanna Get Married (I will never tarry, I’m not even torn, I wanna get married – That’s why I was born) lulls us into 1950’s fantasies that were never true.

Ding Dong (Do you have a little time, Would you like to feel sublime, Run away and never stop…) ushers us into a tiny little insanity.

Her final song Mother of Pearl (Feminists don’t have a sense of humor…Feminists spread vicious lies and rumor, They have a tumor on their funny bone) which starts the audience off on a laughing spree and then very slowly leaves us speechless. Because this woman is singing about rape and abuse and how very un-cuddly it all is.  *Sigh*

This is pure magic.  Nellile McKay is a wizard.  You cannot pin this gal down.  So sit back and let go. GET THEE THITHER!!

Nellie with a Z, at Cafe Carlyle, February 18-22.

Performances will take place Tuesday – Friday at 8:45pm; and Saturday at 8:45pm & 10:45pm. Tickets are $70 ($120 for premium seating, $50 for bar seating) Tuesday – Thursday & the Saturday late show; and $80 ($130 for premium seating, $60 for bar seating) on Friday and Saturday. Reservations can be made at or by phone at 212.744.1600. Cafe Carlyle is located in The Carlyle, A Rosewood Hotel (35 East 76th Street, at Madison Avenue).