Wielding her guitar like a weapon, Donnelly steps onto the stage, sweetly smiles and says, “hello”. From that moment she held the crowd hostage; a kind of Stockholm syndrome infected the whole venue who were utterly enthralled by her gentle vibrato and emotional story-telling.
Few artists are able to emotionally and empathetically resonate with the world around them, with quite the same level of emotional conviction as Stella Donnelly did tonight, with a packed-out crowd spilling out into the front bar at the Lion Arts Factory.
Though don’t let her sweet, breathy voice fool you; her words have bite. While her tracks certainly have a youthful tone, Donnelly’s debut album Beware of the Dogs bravely addresses some heavy socio-political themes deeply rooted in our Western culture.
Performing at Glastonbury in June, Donnelly fired shots at Australian politicians and quickly earned herself a reputation as an artist whose sardonic wit is brazen and refreshingly honest. But Donnelly has been on our radar for quite some time. The Welsh-Australian singer-songwriter started turning heads after she won Triple J’s Unearthed Artist of the Year in 2017, with her song Boys Will Be Boys gaining serious attention. This seemingly light-hearted phrase once used to excuse the childish misadventures of young boys, takes on a rather grim meaning in Donnelly’s song of the same title as she addresses the presence of rape culture and victim indictment.
After opening the show with the hit Mechanical Bull from her first EP, Donnelly didn’t take long to sink her teeth into some of the meatier tracks from her new album. Anecdotally introducing the song Watching Telly, as a track close to her heart, Donnelly reveals writing the song in Dublin, the same day abortion was de-criminalised. Whether it was through telling her personal experience of abortion or the euphoric synthpop vibe, she sent the crowd into a fierce cheer which didn’t quieten for much of the night.
What is truly impressive though is Donnelly’s ability to approach these dark and emotional themes with a certain levity. It is the irony between her grim observational lyricism and her breezy and, at times, humorous delivery that turns the tragic into a force of empowerment.
Candidly with just the right amount of vulgarity, Donnelly tells a story of her mother’s first hearing of the song Mosquito, a self-confessed “love song” according to Donnelly which describes the passionate and sexual side of love. Donnelly confessed, “my mum is super sweet” before putting on a thick Welsh accent to read a message from her mum saying, “hi love, I’m really proud of you but I’ve worn a disguise to work”. Throughout the song, she paused for comical interludes, repeating the phrase “sorry mum” after each mention of “using my vibrator”.
Donnelly’s charisma is truly infectious. The crowd eagerly joined in as she bopped around the stage performing a synchronised crab dance to Die, and stood back in awe as she shifted between electric riffs and the harmonica in Season’s Greetings. Without a doubt, Stella Donnelly is not short of talent nor charm.
After Donnelly closed the show with her hit Tricks, the crowd instantly began chanting “one more song”, and of course she delivered. Arriving back on stage with not only her band, but also her supporting act, Jade Imagine, Donnelly delivered a rendition of Cyndi Lauper’s Time After Time. The group stood with linked arms and swayed back and forth with a soothing rhythm. As the crowd slowly lifted their phones to form a mosaic of lights, Donnelly giggled and said, “this is turning into Coldplay concert”.
Unapologetically herself until the very end, Stella Donnelly delivered not only a commanding vocal performance, but a powerfully captivating show.
Live Review By Caitlin Graziano