Tuesday, January 24, 2006

TegWar does Concert Reviews?

Nellie McKay performed a thoroughly entertaining show at the Birchmere Sunday evening. I was considering sharing my impressions of the night before I read the Post's write-up. That piece convinced me. While not an unfavorable review, it was written without any attention paid to the overall context. Yes, she was not on the top of her game- which was part of the fun. But she's not on tour. This performance was one of a very few she planned between her album release and her Broadway debut (then the album wasn't released). But we'll return to her in time. Let's start at the beginning.

The opening act: the Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players, a group who identify themselves as the world's only indie-vaudeville conceptual art-rock pop band. Let's slim that description down: they write/ perform songs inspired by slideshows (as the frontman- Jason Trachtenburg- assured the audience, the technology to broadcast song-slideshows over the radio is out there, but the industry usually lags behind technology by a few years).

A three person ensemble- Dad (piano, guitar, lead vocals), Mom (projector and I'm not quite sure what else), and Daughter (11 or so years old on the drums, and a good job at that)- the face and personality of the band is the Dad. Along with his vocals, he also performs a distinctive funnyman/ nervousman routine. I'm pretty sure the routine is not so much an act as it is a trait.

The Trachtenburgs put on an awkward to watch, 'what the hell', performance which was, somehow, thoroughly enjoyable and all to brief. A slow motion train-wreck masquerading as performance art, you can't help but find them somehow both compelling and horrifying. They truly are a 'you have to see them to understand them' band, so let's consider a few comments from the audience:

He's too weird! He barely functions on stage, I don't see how he can function day to day.

When I get home, I'm calling child protective services.

He's like Woody Allen- only he does music instead of movies.

Where is he a faculty member?

As for the main act, Nellie was even more fun, happy, and insightful than I had expected. Her humor is offbeat ("Think of something sad... like Saturday Night Live") and her observations acute (on the left's support of pornography as freedom of expression she opined "I thought I was just horny, but it turns out I'm supporting democracy"). She messed up a few songs but owned up to her gaffes, humbly declaring "The pianist is killing this band," after one missed sequence and joking "I feel like Loretta Lynn before her breakdown" (as she stared out into the audience, unable to remember the next lyric) after another. Nellie also slipped up while enjoying herself and her music too much- she warned the audience to avoid thinking when performing, especially smug thoughts.

The music was similarly performed rather than played. Her "duet" with Bob Dylan (which featured Nellie Dylan-mumbling verses) and habit of nervously hand tapping the beat before she started a song capture her ability to be simultaneously audacious and vulnerable. She was clearly comfortable with her label dropping her, though disappointed with how it happened ("I can't sell albums, but apparently have a lot of street cred"). Nellie was more effective when talking about the personal- she recently adopted an aging dog (who she personified sweetly)- than the procedural- such as her discussion of animal rights efforts directed at KFC and Columbia University.

All in all, she was herself behind the mike, which is the very best thing a concert goer can desire.

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