Friday, March 26, 2004

Won't U Be Nice
Well then. First, she silenced - if only for a moment - the notoriously noisy El Mocambo crowd (Folks - if ya want to sit and chat while you listen to good music, walk down the street to the Red Room. Decent food. And they're always playing something by the Cure or Verve. If you insist on going to the ElMo, please shut the fuck up. Thank you.). Then, she made them sing. Seriously. Full blown sing-along with harmony and everything.
Five minutes in to Nellie McKay's Toronto debut I turned to my friend who had until then never heard Miss McKay and the look I got back said simply, "Holy shit."
I'm now convinced that double disc debut that I've been so enamored with lately doesn't actually do her justice. In person the real extent of her talent, humour and insight becomes apparent. I haven't yet figured how much of it is conscious and how much is natural quirk, but whatever it is, it's remarkable to watch. Some people are artists without being entertainers. Others entertainers without being artists in the least. It's not that Nellie has managed to be both of these things, but that she has made her art so damn entertaining and her entertainment so damn artistic. Then there's everything else - the wit, the charm, the satire, the smarts, the self-awareness, the self-discovery. She's simulatenously operating on like eight different levels. I don't even know if she full grasps yet what she's doing (Coincidentally I'm not entirely sure if I know what I'm saying right now or whether it makes even the first bit of sense - this alone I take to be a sign that tonight was something of importance).
Seeing Dizzee Rascal for the first time earlier this year was sorta like this. But I dare say his live powers as yet pale by comparison.
I have repeatedly tried to shake this blind optimism, but to no avail. Others seem to have been more successful.
In a three-star review for NOW magazine, Nick Flanagan actually went after her shortcomings as a rapper (!?!?!).
At some point, such stuff becomes self-parody. I fear Nellie McKay will inspire much of the sort - she's too precocious, too talented, too young, too unlike-anything-else, too audacious, too loved by terribly uncool people...
Critics are critics for a reason of course - they possess that reflex contrarian spirit of suspicion, that searching for fault where others find none. Indie insecurities are tough to lose. More critics should be in therapy.
This if of course nothing personal against Nick (my apologies if it seems that way). More just my own personal disgruntlement with the entire profession - well actually just with cynicism in general these days. And, in truth, the negative reviews of Nellie McKay have been in the vast minority. So consider this my pre-emptive strike (hey, if it's working so well for Bush...).
NOW's Sarah Liss and The Globe's Robert Everett-Green were there tonight to review the show. Maybe they'll prove me all wrong and expound endlessly on the virtues of tonight's virtuoso performance. Or at least offer truly thoughtful criticism lacking entirely in cynicism or snobbery. We shall see...
Till then I will remain your daily source of completely partial boosterism...

(P.S. Nellie will be doing an instore performance at Sam the Record Man - 347 Yonge St. - this afternoon. 4:30pm to be exact. See all you cynical bastards there.)

(P.P.S. Pardon the cursing at you ElMo-goers. You've just ruined too many shows for me with your incessant nattering from the back of the bar. Please don't turn me into one of those "shhh"-ing people.)

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