I can count on one hand the times I’ve been to shows where artists’ vocal control and expertise can create a perfect, record quality listening experience. Seeing songs come to life with production-level vocal accuracy is not only amazing to catch in action, but extremely difficult to pull off for an artist. Stella Donnelly not only surpassed this challenge, but effortlessly cruised past it in a mind-blowing performance of vocals, guitar work, comedy, and even acrobatics at Johnny Brenda’s this past Saturday. Just over a week out from her debut release, Beware of the Dogs, Donnelly has launched off her 2019 world tour amid rave reviews.
Her 2018 EP, Thrush Metal, was well known in the US for its single ‘Boys Will be Boys,’ a striking piece that tells the story of a close friend of Donnelly’s who was a victim of sexual assault. Beware of the Dogs features this hit single among a smattering of beautiful new work, with these themes of women’s activism and sexual assault awareness common to many of them. Contrasted by her poppy, catchy indie-rock backing music, Donnelly stated in a recent Boston Herald article, “I find it so much easier to sing about darker issues when there is light music surrounding it.” Thriving in the powerful wake of the #metoo movement, Donnelly is unafraid of holding back, belting out in her beautiful voice exactly what she feels our young generation needs to hear most.
Atlanta-based singer-songwriter Faye Webster was the sole opener for the show, and wowed the crowd with a handful of beautiful bedroom pop songs including her most recently released single, ‘Room Temperature.’ Accompanied by the mysterious slide-guitarist only introduced as ‘Pistol,’ Webster’s beautiful guitar work, soothing vocals, and unexpected yo- yoing expertise warmed up the crowd perfectly.
Donnelly took the stage solo, opening with ‘Grey,’ a melancholic song off of Thrush Metal that speaks of losing pride in oneself by not living up to the expectations of others. Moving on to pieces from Beware of the Dogs, Donnelly put on beautiful performances of ‘You Owe Me’ and ‘Beware of the Dogs,’ two pieces which she recently played on NPR’s Tiny Desk to critical acclaim. ‘Beware of the Dogs’ highlighted Donnelly’s expert vocal control, beautifully intermingled with her solo guitar work. After two more pieces from Beware of the Dogs, Donnelly played ‘Boys Will be Boys,’ the single she was most well known for in the US prior to her debut album. Aiming to crush the excuses that propagate rape culture, the beautiful piece also attempts to incite a renewed pride in the upbringing of boys and men, an upbringing that aims to teach respect for women early on in life rather than perpetuating the stereotype of ‘boys being boys.’ Donnelly brought the rest of her backing band out next, playing some more hits off of Boys Will be Boys, including ‘Old Man,’ ‘Lunch,’ and ‘Tricks.’ Dancing all over the stage with her bandmates and at one point lying on the stage playing guitar with her feet in the air, Donnelly’s presence was invigorating and left the crowd shouting for more.
Closing out the encore with a solo performance of ‘Mechanical Bull’ off of Thrush Metal, Donnelly showcased her potent vocals one last stunning time. For being relatively new to the US indie scene, Donnelly drew a huge crowd of all ages, reminiscent of Soccer Mommy’s show at Johnny Brenda’s last year. Like Soccer Mommy (or perhaps more like fellow Australian Courtney Barnett), Donnelly is riding a huge resurgence in powerful women indie rockers, with artists such as Phoebe Bridgers, Julien Baker, and Lucy Dacus taking the forefront of the indie music scene with their powerful stories, wonderful vocal work, and irresistible natural charm. Judging from the already overwhelming positive response to Boys Will be Boys and her seemingly endless energy and wit, Donnelly’s rise to a household name in indie music imminently awaits.