A standing crowd filled most of Gloria Stage on Thursday afternoon, drawn to Stella Donnelly’s show perhaps in part for a dry, warm refuge from the rain outside. A thin layer of steam peeled off raincoats, and the audience seemed anticipatory but subdued.
Cheers broke out when the Australian indie rocker took to the stage – to her immediate surprise.
“Oh my God. I was not expecting this many people, and now I’m shitting my pants,” Donnelly laughed as she shouldered her guitar.
Donnelly’s music reflects her crude, chipper candor. Gathering prominence since the 2017 release of her EP ‘Thrush Metal’, Donnelly has shaped a growing reputation for stellar lyricism and a gentle yet determined sound. Her songs are borne of everyday frustrations and personal challenges – a spectrum that spans jaunty songs about late paychecks from a bad boss to a trembling account of the sexual assault of a close friend. The themes of her music are at once deeply personal yet universal. In embracing the banalities that make up our lives, her reflections on social issues and generational challenges become all the more human.
Through a 45-minute set, Donnelly and her band delivered an exceptional performance that showcased her breadth in both thematic focus and sound. Highlight tracks ‘Grey’, ‘Mosquito’ and ‘Boys Will Be Boys’ – largely minimal arrangements that emphasised Donnelly’s mournful voice – drew gentle swaying and scattered tears from the audience. Donnelly’s anecdotes and humorous musings between songs created a deeply personal atmosphere ideal for the Gloria Stag. The concert felt more like a dialogue between artist and audience, rather than an experience delivered from one party to another.
Being it is such a direct and intimate expression of her experiences and personal presence, it’s hard to imagine Donnelly’s music being replicated with any success. Her wit, sarcasm, and honesty – a willingness to present vulnerabilities, and to become stronger for it – Eexist in unison between person and performer. Hers is the story of a basement artist still wholly surprised to find herself drawing such crowds, performing with the intoxicating candor of someone so grateful and deserving to be where she is.