Brigid Kaelin opened Tuesday night for Nellie McKay at Headliner's Music Hall, and you would be hard pressed to find two musicians who bring quite as much personal charm, humor, and unique character to the stage. In the midst of a long, cold, mucky winter, it was the kind of show that puts a little color and warmth back into the world.
Kaelin played a mix of favorites, including her version of "Over the Rainbow" on musical saw, and a couple of new tunes. "Anyone Can Cry" is one of the new ones, which she said was supposed to be an angry song, but took a "fun turn," as many of her songs do. Kaelin has such a strong local fan base that I wasn't sure how many people were out on a Tuesday night for headliner McKay in particular, but I got the feeling that anyone who might have arrived for Kaelin stayed for the duration of the evening.
McKay is one of the more versatile performers you'll ever see -- she seems comfortable in most any musical mode, whether she's crooning an old standard like "Sentimental Journey," breaking out the reggae rhythms of the Caribbean, or delivering a biting satire like "I Wanna Get Married" in a voice that's pure sweetness.
With her flouncing blonde hair, flawless skin, and retro outfits, McKay is undoubtedly adorable, with a mad gleam in her eye and an infectious smile. She is also an immensely talented musician -- a composer of note, a singer, and an instrumentalist -- accompanying herself very ably on piano and ukulele. She was backed by a fine three-piece band -- a bass guitarist (whose name, unfortunately, I didn't catch) drummer Ben Bynum, and lead guitarist Cary Park.
McKay tells funny stories in her breathy, stammering style that seems straight out of the screwball comedies of the 40s and 50s. And while she's excellent at producing all the innocent glow and nostalgia of Doris Day one minute and launching into an impromptu medley from The Threepenny Opera the next, McKay is never merely aping bygone eras of music; she brings a clever archness and edge to the covers -- a knowingness and delight in her musical heritage, whether it hails from Bertolt Brecht, Tom Waits or The Clash. Then she takes it all and flips it in her own compositions -- witty, comic, biting, with a bubbling punkiness that somehow just fits -- or at least fits the inimitable Nellie McKay.
Brigid Kaelin at the keyboard
Kaelin, Peter Searcy, Steve Cooley, Ben Lankford (l-r)
Nellie McKay in a fab ensemble -- you can't see the silver cowboy boots.
Doing a little dance
With her trusty ukulele
Fun duet with Ben Bynum (and a costume change after the first set)
Don't Cry for Me Argentina (not really, but she did sing "Blue Moon of Kentucky")
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