A balmy, lukewarm night was maliciously teasing the beginning of spring as punters flowed in to The Bird to see Stella Donnelly on the first leg of her “Thrush Metal” Australian tour. There was a great spectrum of fans filling every inch of The Bird’s recently expanded enclosure. Amongst the crowd were fresh fans of the Freo-based musician, having undoubtedly heard the infectious lead singles off her EP on national radio. Joining them were friends and family as well as long-time fans of Stella’s involvement in the Perth punk movement, promoting the scene at any opportunity, and swinging the gat for both Bell’s Rapids and Boat Show.
It was with this sprit that the show begun, New Nausea greeting the crowd with a set of acoustic puck cacophony. He was followed by Telete, two very energetic and ingenious artists, who filled the room with soaring violin loops, analogue beats and quirky yet soulful vocals, with contemporary dance embellishments to boot. A hand-picked and unusual bouquet were the opening acts; a homely tribute to Stella’s punk roots, and melodic, catchy song writing that set the tone for the main act.
Stella graced the stage by herself. No band, no visuals, no bells nor whistles. It was going to be a show where the only focus was on the words exuding from her mouth and the notes at the end of her fingers. Pale Stratocaster in hand, she opened with the last song off her record, ‘A Poem’. A hush fell over the bar, and an intrigued silence began emanating from the crowd. This was followed by an eccentric number called ‘Sportsbet Sausage Sizzle’: a crowd favourite amongst seasoned punters that saw Stella’s natural accent shine through the melody to an almost comic extent, complimenting the song’s parodic nature.
An intriguing night of storytelling morsels was the flavour of the show, and the audience devoured every mouthful. The venue was pin-drop silent throughout as Stella spun her tasteful anecdotes, most of which were profound stories of hurt, loss and misuse interwoven with a couple of light-hearted ballads such as ‘I Should Have Stayed at Home’ and the aforementioned ‘Sportsbet’ song.
When Stella sings about hurt, you better believe it hurts. When she sings about distrust, you feel cheated. And when she sings about abuse, you feel confronted – confronted by a closeted issue that was being brought to light by passionate, aching vocals on a bed of dreamy waltz-like chords. The juxtaposition of these melancholic, distressing and dreadful moments recalled against twinkling, dreamy chords and the soft tone of Stella’s voice was a powerful tool of storytelling as much as it was of social commentary. This key element of Stella’s performance was confronting yet engaging in the most compelling way possible.
The mid-set was dominated by these hard-hitting contemplative pieces, incorporating aspects of roots and folk, and featured the appearance of singles such as ‘Mechanical Bull’ and ‘Boys Will be Boys’. The inclusion of a Basement Jaxx cover saw Stella take it all the way back to ’04 with ‘Good Luck’, in an energetic and entertaining homage to the British garage-funk group. However, with this cover came a question of its relevance within the set. It felt as though the song was added in as a filler, it’s themes and pace not really matching the flavour of the night, despite its infectious popularity.
As she rested on the final cadence on her closing song, “Mean to Me”, Stella’s words stuck to the sweaty walls of bar, and soaked in. Her personality, opinions and frustrations rested upon her audience’s mind as they left, not as an uncomfortable burden, but as a beautiful yet puzzling memory. Her show proved that she is not a voice to be heard, but be listened to; appreciated and questioned as a modern storyteller in a world of bombarding distractions.