Early on in her set, Stella Donnelly quips that when she first played in Bristol last year at The Louisiana, there were only about four people in the audience. Tonight, Thekla is packed out for her and she has the audience hanging on every note.
The Australian artist’s debut album Beware of the Dogs came out at the beginning of March to plenty of critical acclaim. Featuring breakout tracks like Boys Will Be Boys and Old Man, it showed off Donnelly’s incredible knack for addressing important social issues – particularly sexism and sexual assault – in a way that few other musicians have managed to do so well. In the age of the #MeToo movement, Stella Donnelly is an essential artist.
In the age of the #MeToo movement, Stella Donnelly is an essential artist
Following an excellent solo set from LA-based musician Sofia Bolt, Donnelly took to the stage armed with her guitar. Apart from piano accompaniments on a few songs, the first half of the show was completely solo, with the singer-songwriter offering stripped-back renditions of songs from her recent album and earlier EP.
The minimal presentation reinforced how strong these songs are at their core and how easily Donnelly is able to shift tones – from serious to light-hearted, touching to witty – in an instant. It also placed emphasis on her finger-picking guitar style and powerful vocals, which ranged from soft to belting.
The minimal presentation reinforced how strong these songs are at their core
In between fantastic cuts such as Allergies and U Owe Me, Donnelly bantered with the audience about the worst beer to come out of Australia (Foster’s or VB?) and told the story of when her mother first heard one of the more sexually explicit songs from her album on the radio. Often hilarious, she smiled through the whole set. With some artists, it can feel as though they’re going through the motions a bit when performing, but it was obvious throughout that Donnelly was enjoying every second of her show.
it was obvious that Donnelly was enjoying every second of her show
For the second half of the show, a full live band was brought out to back her up on some of the less minimal tracks from Beware of the Dogs. From politically charged belters like Old Man to peppier cuts like the jangly Tricks, they managed to touch on a wide range of moods. The band even broke out some synchronised dance moves for the electronic groove Die, which was impossible not to smile at. Along with the audience, they seemed to be having a blast the whole way through.
Donnelly closed out the set with a cover of the classic Phil Phillips track Sea of Love, chosen especially for the boat-based Thekla. She also returned for a brief encore following the rapturous applause from the audience, playing an older cut from her Thrush Metal EP.
From the intimate stripped-back opening to the full-band performance, it was filled with stunning moments
It’s rare that I go to a gig that doesn’t lag in some spots, but Stella Donnelly’s show was seriously incredible throughout. From the intimate stripped-back opening to the full-band performance, it was filled with stunning moments. The songs from her album really shined live, and I left the Thekla wishing they could’ve played for a little bit longer. But I guess that’s the mark of a great gig, isn’t it?