24th April | Thekla
Photos: Craig Simmonds
I can’t remember the last time I did a proper belly laugh at a gig. As Stella Donnelly and her band awkwardly dance the crab, side-to-side across Thekla’s cramped stage, I can’t help but chuckle with the crowd around me.
Stella’s energy is absolutely infectious, from first tender pluck at the guitar to her silly anecdotes about writing a world-famous EDM song that’s “nothing like Sandstorm by Darude” to the way she smiles heartily with her bandmates during wordless interludes. Her breezy charm works its way into ‘Mosquito’ – a tender experiential millennial song about love and a vibrator that she regrets her mother heard about on the radio. “Stella, I’m wearing a disguise to work,” she mimics in a strong Welsh accent that she finds difficult to shake for the rest of the gig.
Her accent is a wonderfully curious mix of her upbringing between Perth, Australia and South Wales that is flavoured by her quick English wit and just the right amount of swearing. Her gentle vibrato carries us softly through the evening, her tone a refreshingly saccharine one that juxtaposes the rawness of her written material. ‘Boys Will Be Boys’ is the only moment Stella’s voice quivers under a slight rasp, as she references the recent #MeToo movement in a personal narrative. It’s a soul-touching moment, one that brings the entire crowd to silence.
It’s incredible to watch an artist so emotionally in touch with the goings on of the world around her, able to translate that into gutsy lyrics that still feel somewhat uplifting. “I need be alone” she calls; the sentiment of ‘Mechanical Bull’ not lost on a generation surrounded by a constant buzz. In the moments she sings about love, she smiles, and in the moments sung about hate and pain, she smiles. I know it should just be about the music, but it’s impossible to separate the person from the sound in the case of Stella Donnelly.
Rounding out the gig, she chooses to give us yet more of her in a cover of ‘Sea of Love’, inspired by Cat Power’s latest rendition. “We’re on a boat, so I thought it made sense!” she titters through the opening strums, her eyes flicking back and forth between individual faces in her crowd, each one of them completely absorbed by her energy.
The performance contains so much of the performer in the case of Stella Donnelly: everything about her jaunty strumming to the way she jokingly flaunts her dance moves shines brightly with sanguinity. Her final words to us on Wednesday night remain clear in a world consumed by confusion, “I wanna tell you how much I love you.”
See Stella Donnelly play her NPR Tiny Desk Session here: