Nellie McKay’s sound harks back to the gee-whiz spirit of the 1940s and ’50s, with timeless melodies and tributes to the likes of Rosemary Clooney and Doris Day. But her mind, musically and otherwise, finds much in the present to protest.
“There’s such a rich history of protest in this country, and such ripe disdain,” she said, cheerfully, while holding a sign last week outside the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. She was there, at Madison Square Garden in the cold, with about a dozen others to suggest that breeding dogs is immoral when dogs in shelters go without homes. (Her sign: “Every dog bred is a shelter dog dead.”)
On Tuesday, Ms. McKay brings her mission to a setting of a different sort: the cabaret at the Café Carlyle, where she will perform a five-night stand.
The atmosphere may diverge, but the singer has made a habit of recasting her surroundings in her own image.