After spending the last few years slowly conquering the world with her raw and empathetic artistry, Stella Donnelly made her long-awaited return to Fremantle this week with the hometown stretch of her national tour – the belated celebration of her debut album Beware of the Dogs. For the first time since expanding her intimate sound into a full-band arrangement, Stella hit the stage of the quickly-thriving Freo.Social, with an eclectic duo of supports in Adrian Dzvuke and inter-staters Jade Imagine.
Stella opened her set solo with a couple stripped-back tracks off her original Thrush Metal EP. The barebone delivery of set openers Mechanical Bull and Grey remain the best showcase of the singer’s arresting earthiness and extraordinary tone. For long-term faithfuls, these solo numbers feel like a window into the past, and it’s oddly comforting to see them performed now the way they’ve always been, despite all that’s evolved in Stella’s musicality – soaring on the understated, tactile ferocity of Stella’s vocals and lone guitar.
Similarly, devastating crowd-favourite Boys will be Boys had the room frozen later in the set. Stella’s performance of this heartbreaking, eye-opening tale retains its ability to cast a stillness over a room – even one bustling with hundreds of excited fans. It’s as astonishing to witness as ever.
But around these quieter moments were displays of the seasoned artist Donnelly has become with a band, churning out inspired arrangements that blend genre and mood. From the Summery, jangly guitars of Old Man and Tricks evoking the beachy indie-pop of San Cisco, to the dancey electro pace of Die, to the punky bite of personal favourite, Beware of the Dogs – the set was an impressive display of genre fluidity (which might not be for everyone). Ultimately closing on a surprisingly wholesome note with a Karaoke-like singalong of Cyndi Lauper’s timeless crowd-pleaser Time After Time.
The state of Stella Donnelly’s current live show is a reminder of how far she’s come in such a short time, and why she’s one of our best in WA. Her charisma has never been stronger; at times her banter veering into what feels like stand-up, with the crowd laughing at her razor-ship wit and left-field anecdotes. Despite these moments sometimes feeling a little rehearsed and polished, Stella still bears the trademark empathy, humility and confronting honesty that has always made her such an electrifying person on stage.
Reviewer - Luke Keatinge