“Cheeky [and] joyous.”
Stella Donnelly’s album, Beware Of The Dogs, is one of the best Australian albums released this year. It’s a record with much to say, delivered as a mixture of folk and garage – Donnelly sings softly and articulately about abortion, about sexual assault, about workplace exploitation, about finished relationships. Sometimes her voice aches, at other times it builds and builds to a roaring peak, like on title track, Beware Of The Dogs. Overall, it’s unapologetic and full of power – and totally necessary for our times.
Throughout her sold-out Factory Theatre set, those moments got the most reaction out of the audience. But what marked the show was just how engaged the crowd was; from the first song, Mechanical Bull off her 2017 debut EP, Thrush Metal, the audience sang along. They were word-perfect, almost drowning out Donnelly’s tempered, twangy vocals when she played alone, dressed in a glam jumpsuit, armed with her electric guitar. When she didn’t need to be at the mic, she would almost float back, fixed on her instrument.
At other times, accompanied by her full band, Donnelly bounced off other people’s energy. This show looked like a lot of fun – not just for the punters. During Die, she and Jack Gaby, who spends the night on keys (and jingle bells), performed a choreographed dance of simple arm movements, jogging and crab-walking. They encouraged the crowd to follow along. That captured the spirit of the evening – cheeky, joyous, a gathering of people who like wordy guitar-pop that captures something of how it feels to be a mid-20s woman living in the early 21st century.
Stella Donnelly @ Factory Theatre. Photo by Belinda Dipalo.
“Nobody should tell you what to do with your body,” Donnelly emphasised, by way of introduction to powerful set piece, Watching Telly, a song written in the wake of abortion being legalised in Ireland in September last year, where she happened to be playing at the time. She stressed, “No one’s ever asking for it,” when introducing another confronting – and moving – song, Boys Will Be Boys, about a friend’s experience of sexual assault.
Still, it wasn’t a self-serious set. The endearing Donnelly was always comfortable making fun of herself, joking before Lunch that she was back to “the comfort of [her] stereotype: girl with guitar”. Except before Donnelly and band even made it to the song, they got distracted making fun of each other and playing the music of Jack Johnson. The set proper closed with the infectious Tricks, a crowd favourite, that had everyone bopping along.
Donnelly decided to skip the artifice of an encore, bringing out the supports, Tuffence Meringue and Jade Imagine, who joined the band in a line to sway out of time to a jangly cover of Cyndi Lauper’s Time After Time. Until next time, Stella Donnelly, “I will be waiting!”