LIVE REVIEW: Why Stella Donnelly continues to capture all
A couple years ago, my family returned from the fantastic family-friendly folk festival Fairbridge raving about a young woman named Stella Donnelly. They were astounded by her stunning vocals and quirky charm. In fact, they seemed to think I’d have quite the crush on her. (They were right.)
At this point in time, it was autumn 2017 and Stella was a Freo musician playing small solo shows here and there and for a couple bands, the wonderful Bells Rapids alongside Tanaya Harper and Boat Show. Stella had just released her first EP, Thrush Metal, and I was astounded by her voice – a sweet but sassy style combined with striking and thought-provoking lyricism. I’ll definitely have to check her out sometime, I thought to myself.
Then all of a sudden it was October and Harvey Weinstein’s horrible actions spanning decades were being exposed, kickstarting the #metoo movement. Stella’s raw, confronting and heartbreaking yet potentially empowering song, ‘Boys Will Be Boys’, rose to prominence as a powerful, perspective-shifting and exceptionally moving soundtrack to the movement. Stella’s voice became one of resistance and awareness, rising up to the institutionalised patriarchal bullshit that covers up, shifts the blame and excuses the inexcusable.
Stella’s newfound prominence as a feminist voice and triple j unearthed artist also meant that many new people were introduced to her captivating and beautiful music. She’s now played all around the world, from the Sydney Opera House to Europe, the US and Japan, and featured in an array of festivals.
In March of this year, she released her first album, Beware of the Dogs, to critical acclaim. Since the release, she has been touring North America and Europe, including performing sold-out shows in London, New York and Los Angeles. But finally, the time had come for her to kick off her national tour of Australia. After four shows on the East Coast, Stella was coming home with two shows at the sensational venue, Freo.Social.
Kicking off the night was the groovy fun Adrian Dzvuke and his band, who were followed by Melbourne witty and wry four-piece Jade Imagine. Then after an intermission, the Star Wars theme song began blaring over the speakers to introduce her to the stage in a typically humorous fashion. Stella began with an Acknowledgement of Country before starting the show with solo performances of some of her beloved tunes from her first EP, Mechanical Bull and the delightful, colourful track ‘Grey’.
She then began performing songs her from her new album, with ‘You Owe Me’, a song about a disagreeable former boss who hadn’t paid her yet. (Turns out she had the week wrong and her pay wasn’t due for another week!) Next was the album title track, the wonderful and sprawling, “anti-pious fucks” ‘Beware of the Dogs’.
She was then joined on stage by her band, which instantly created a higher energy feel as they performed ‘Old Man’. Stella took the opportunity to praise Ireland for legalising abortion whilst she was on tour there. “No religious or government body should ever get to choose what you do with your own body,” she declared to an applause.
Stella and the band continued with ‘Watching Telly’ before she whipped out a harmonica for the upbeat ‘Seasons Greetings’, which features one of my favourite lines: “She was a punk, my mum’s still a punk, and you’re still shit!” She then announced that she was now an EDM artist (“The new Darude Sandstorm…” as she declared), after creating the tune ‘Die’. But as if Stella making EDM music could be any better, her and the band had even formulated dance moves for it!
This was followed by the gorgeous track ‘Lunch’, the powerful ‘Boys Will Be Boys’ and one of the most popular songs from the album, ‘Tricks’, which features a reference to radio hosts Kyle and Jackie O. Stella began describing how they had reached out to her after hearing the song, asking if she’d like to come on the show.
Her response? “Fuck no!”
The audience then twisted her arm to perform a definitely absolutely completely unplanned ‘encore’. Her mum, dad, brother and one of the band members’ wives and baby daughter all joined arms on stage as they passionately blurted out the Cyndi Lauper classic ‘Time After Time’ along with the rest of the audience, to conclude the show in a fun and love-filled way.
To reiterate, Stella Donnelly truly is an amazing artist. She is almost impossibly endearing, with her glowing smile, quirky charisma, hilarious commentary and of course, exceptional musical talent. A YouTube comment on her Tiny Desk performance (which I recommend checking out here) summed her up fantastically:
She sings sad songs but with this happy disposition, almost as though she perceives things in a “life is just funny and that there’s no need to be jaded by it” kind of way. I love it.
And I agree with you, random YouTube commenter.
Beyond her incredible musical aptitude and unparalleled voice control, Stella’s dichotomy between being sweet and angelic – whilst at the same time being open about sexuality and expressing a strong voice regarding important socio-political matters – makes her a wonderfully unique artist.
Her rapid rise over the past two years is certainly a reflection of her talent, delightful eccentricity and sense of humour. As someone truly something special, I for one can not wait to see what more the future has in store for this brilliant Freo artist.