“I play that first so that I sound extra in tune” laughs Stella Donnelly, beaming down at her adoring audience as they manage to pack out the Corner Hotel band room for the second night in a row.
Dressed in bright geometric patterns, she stands radiant and sparkling under the cascading lights from the disco ball turning steadily above us. Of course the Welsh-born singer-songwriter is referring to the 20th Century Fox theme song that had just played before she graced the stage for first time of the evening. This quirky and almost comical way to begin the set is met with nothing but a warm appreciation from everyone in the room, and we all giggle along with Donnelly as she tunes her guitar, warmly thanking both the amazing Melbourne Indie Voices and Jade Imagine for opening up the show (notably setting the bar extremely high for the rest of the night) and also extending her respects to the traditional owners of the land.
Since beginning her musical career in high-school (in a humble Green Day cover band), Donnelly has managed to continuously captivate and inspire listeners with music that is just as beautiful as it is devastating. Released in March this year, her first studio album Beware of the Dogs didn’t fail to live up to this one bit, wowing critics and listeners alike with her mature juxtaposition of hard-hitting lyrics with sweet and catchy melodies that make you want to dance just as much as help start the much needed discourse around a number of topics including politics, sexual assault and gender.
The night opens with ‘Mechanical Bull’, one of the first tracks Donnelly put out as a solo artist, having predominantly been known prior for her role within popular indie-rock band BOAT SHOW.
“Oh my goodness, she’s unreal” whispers a girl behind me as we look up in awe to where it would be all too easy to forget that the only thing accompanying Donnelly’s voice in this particular song is her salmon coloured guitar.
Following up with ‘Grey’ and title track ‘Beware Of The Dogs’, Donnelly welcomes guitarist George Foster to the stage before treating us to a colourful impersonation of her Mother’s first reaction to ‘Mosquito’ (I use my vibrator/ wishing it was you) after she’d heard it on the radio for the first time.
“Hi-ya sweetie” she exclaims, much to the delight of everyone in the room. “I’m really proud of ya, but I’ve worn a disguise to work”.
Soon we are graced by the presence of the rest of the band, where Donnelly wastes no time in introducing everyone (Jennifer Asset on bass, Tayla Valenti on drums and Jack Gaby on guitar). It’s clear to see that these guys have been through a lot together, and it feels really special as an audience member to be invited in to their little family for the night.
Donnelly doesn’t stop making us laugh throughout the whole set: whether it be including us into inside band jokes, cracking hilarious one-liners or introducing songs with funny or personal back stories. However before ‘Watching Telly’, things shift to a more serious note.
“No religious body, government body or any fucking body should get to choose what women do with their bodies!” Music fills the room in a way that creates the illusion of swimming as we’re suspended by raw emotion and a feeling of intense connection to both Donnelly and the words she is singing. Looking around, it’s easy to see why some gig-goers can be heard sniffling as they sing in unison along with every lyric.
During ‘Boys Will Be Boys’ there is not a single dry eye in sight. A couple next to me are wrapped in each others arms, swaying to the rhythm of the song. The usual chatter and buzz of The Corner diminishes entirely until there is nothing to be heard but what’s coming from the stage. We are completely mesmerised, engulfed in a feeling of goosebumps and solidarity. A room full of strangers stand completely united.
After ‘Tricks’ and a stunning encore performance of Cyndi Lauper’s ‘Time After Time’, Donnelly thanks us again before bouncing off stage, leaving us all to figure out if we want to reemerge into the front bar laughing or crying (or both…).
Next up on the National tour is a stop in to Donnelly’s home town of Fremantle, hitting up Freo.Social on the 26th and 27th of September before moving on to Margaret River. Also supported by the amazingly talented and captivating Jade Imagine (who completely blew the audience away with their new-wave take on both lyrical and musical storytelling) this is not a show to miss.