Live Review: Stella Donnelly – Yes, Manchester

Photo Credit: Iain Fox

Stella Donnelly is an absolute star! Her performance this evening in Yes’ accommodating Pink Room demonstrates why impeccable stage craft tied to incredible, relatable songs and a gregarious personality are the absolute key to success. By the end of the show the crowd have absolutely fallen for the Australian and her faithful band, but this outcome was never really in any doubt.

French artist Amélie Rousseaux, AKA Sofia Bolt, warms up the crowd with a stripped-back rendition of her material from first album Get Out Of My Head. Performing solo means that much of her performance lacks the punch, drive and sophistication of the recorded songs, but there is an unpredictability to her taut guitar which she loops inventively to create a multi-layered sensory experience, that gets better and better as the set progresses.

Photo Credit: Iain Fox

After a brief interlude, Stella Donnelly bounds through the door at the back of the stage and picks up her pink Fender. Beaming from ear to ear, it looks like she really wants to be here, and why not because the crowd instantly connect, despite the opening of the show being a quiet, solo affair. Thrush Metal‘s tender ‘Grey’ gets us going, but the evening is really a celebration of her brilliant new record, Beware Of The Dogs, and ‘You Owe Me’ is an equally impressive opportunity to really connect with this musician. Donnelly explains the origins of the song; inspired by someone she worked with, she points out the VB beer reference. “What’s the equivalent crap beer in the UK?” she asks. “Fosters!” is the sardonic reply, which prompts Stella to divulge an embarrassing anecdote about a gig in Belgium, and this is how the evening goes. Band mate George accompanies her for one song during this stripped back section of the set, adding a new dimension to the banter, but what is ultimately apparent is how connected these songs are. Songs addressing the rise and fall of relationships are rife, but in Donnelly’s hands there is an accessibility to the tales that makes them so rewarding.

Photo Credit: Iain Fox

‘Boys Will Be Boys’ is introduced with a foreword about its more sober and weighty subject matter. One hopes that over time, Donnelly’s introduction to this pensive song consists of an incredulity that it was addressing a culture and behaviour that existed at all. Until then, this hypnotic song creates a tunnel-like point of convergence as we focus on Stella Donnelly’s affecting lyrics and incredible vocal performance delivering them. The song could have seismically shifted the atmosphere of the whole evening, but this is the last track of her solo section and the sunny ambience of the evening returns, when her band take their places for ‘Old Man’, despite some of the more potent contemporary themes remaining.

Photo Credit: Iain Fox

During this hugely satisfying section of the show, much of the remainder of Beware Of The Dogs is performed and on the brilliant ‘Season’s Greetings’ we’re once again reminded why this artist bonds with her fans in the way she does. There’s an engaging verisimilitude to these finely crafted narratives; we’ve had these experiences she sings about and when the profane harmonies at the song’s conclusion go slightly awry, this just makes Stella and her band even more delightful. The unrefined dance routine during the jaunty ‘Die’ only enhances this affection and by the time the band launch into ‘Tricks’, even the most subdued are dancing and singing along. Stella Donnelly really has got us. We’re weak at the knees for her brand of animated candour and when she sings ‘Time After Time’ during the encore, all and sundry are singing along with this most effervescent of performers. I certainly doubt that there will be a better show any time this year, and if there is a more personable musician, I’d like to meet them. Incredible!

Words & Images by Iain Fox

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