“Do we need another version of ‘Someone To Watch Over Me”? I don’t think so,” said Paula West near the beginning of the opening night of her annual four-week residency at Feinstein’s at the Nikko.
So San Francisco’s top vocal interpreter went on to sing a captivating set of lesser-known (and a few familiar) tunes by her favorite 20th century composers and artists.
Her two sassy Pearl Bailey songs (by Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer) were “Legalize My Name” and “A Woman’s Prerogative” from the 1946 musical “St. Louis Woman.” When she sings them, the lyrics don’t seem dated.
Her other fave, Bob Dylan, got two more weighty numbers: “Just Like a Woman” (the closing lines sung in first person) and “Make You Feel My Love,” made more famous by Adele.
West’s capable band included drummer Jerome Jennings, guitarist Jacques Leisure (not to be confused with Ed Cherry, who takes over the spot for the second half of the run), bassist John Wiitala, and pianist Adam Shulman, who gave the singer some really big finishes in his satisfying arrangements.
Not only did the songs swing, they often built to dramatic crescendos, in Irving Berlin’s “Waiting at the End of the Road” and Kurt Weill and Maxwell Anderson’s “Lost in the Stars,” which had a beautiful melodic line from “You’ll Never Walk Alone” in the piano solo.
Speaking of stars, West – who uncharacteristically was wearing a bright green-and-white print dress, not all black – jazzed it up with Wiitala on “Stars Fell on Alabama” (by Frank Perkins and Mitchell Parish) and on the 1962 “Love Is a Necessary Evil” (by Jack Segal and Marvin Fisher).
Jimmy Webb’s moody “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” (West expressed her love for Glen Campbell) got a big drum finish, but it was just a warmup for her encore, David Bowie’s “Space Oddity.” Not only was it a great, warm tribute to the late icon, it got a huge rock guitar treatment rarely (if ever) heard in the refined cabaret room.
Referencing her long engagement, West urged folks in the audience to come back and bring their friends. It’s not a bad idea, because hearing a selection by this inimitable stylist is like hearing a song for the first time.
Where: Feinstein’s at the Nikko, 222 Mason St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays, 7 p.m. Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays; closes March 6
Tickets: $40 to $60
Contact: (415) 394-1100, www.feinsteinssf.com