Nellie McKay – “I Want To Live” live at the Catalina Jazz Club

By Jon, LA Snark

I don’t know too much about Nellie McKay other than the fact that she’s amazing. I think I heard some buzzings about her in 2002 but it was mostly from women that touted her as some sort of girl power act and I wasn’t sure if I was invited to the party.

A few years ago, I noticed Nellie McKay was playing at the old Largo and thought it might make a fun date night to have some dinner and watch this singer that I’d kinda heard of.

That night I got drunk on pasta, wine, and Nellie McKay. To sit in a lounge that small and hear music coming straight from a singer’s diaphragm to your ears without taking a detour through autotune and recording industry approval is something to be appreciated.

From that point on I knew that I was a Nellie McKay fan.

Last Friday night we took our friends to the Catalina Jazz Club, to see Nellie. We figured that they’d go in expecting a boring Jazz show and be delightfully surprised when they witnessed the amazingness of Nellie. Instead it was the Nellie veterans (Kate and myself) that were surprised and delighted by Nellie’s “I Want To Live” dinner theater. I figured we were in for a night of dry-humored ukulele feminist jokes, but NO. We were in for a full on night of musical drama, and it was amazingsauce.

I don’t want to ruin the show for you because you should seriously purchase a flight to wherever this show is happening next. I’ll say this though: “I Want To Live” transcends music and theater.

“I Want To Live” is the story of Barbara Graham, the third woman to be executed in the San Quentin gas chamber. I know, it sounds like a serious downer, but it is amazing. There is a prison scene where all the band members transform into lady prison cellmates and a scene where Nellie sings “I Only Have Eyes For You” while consoling a make believe baby featuring the saxophonist’s impression of a baby crying that is so dead-on you think you’re in the check out lane at Target.

If you’re reading this and you’re like “This sounds fun, but is it hip?” Jason Schwartzman was there. So… yeah.

The Catalina Jazz Club itself is weird, but I loved it. Yelp reviews say that the dinner prices are insane and the wait staff is awful. We skipped dinner and showed up just in time for the show. We ended up at an obstructed view table, but Nellie worked every inch of the stage so no one missed too much. I can’t comment on how the food was, but my “Ultimate Margarita” was pretty fantastic. No one on Yelp seemed to mention the fact that this club is in a basement. It felt more like I was going to a Cub Scout meeting than a concert, but it all worked out in the end.

I’ve made a promise to myself: Never, ever miss a Nellie McKay show. I recommend you follow suit.