Stella Donnelly pre-empted the #MeToo movement with the release of ‘Boys Will Be Boys’ in 2017. The lead track from her debut EP Thrush Metal, it confronts a man who raped her friend and challenges the culture of victim blaming.
The Perth-based singer-songwriter gives a content warning before playing it solo tonight, sensitive to the experiences of her audience. Its message is as hard-hitting and relevant as when it was first released but its rawness is an anomaly in the set, which draws on recently released album Beware Of The Dogs.
She remains unafraid of tackling difficult subjects – ‘Old Man’ addresses sexual assault in the defiant put-down, “Your personality traits don’t count if you put your d*** in someone’s face” – but unlike the track with which she launched her career, she usually brings a lightness of touch to the topic.
The breezy guitar lines on the likes of ‘Grey’ and ‘Tricks’ tend towards chiming 90s indie-folk, performed in various configurations with her four-piece band. Her lyrical smartness and bubbly on stage presence are nonetheless distinctive. ‘Mosquito’ is a case in point as she interrupts herself to humorously ad lib an apology to her mother for the line, “I use my vibrator / Wishing it was you.”
There’s also a willingness to break out of generically sensitive indie. Her jokey description of ‘Bistro’ as an ‘EDM song’ is stretching a point but George Foster’s keyboard line on ‘Die’ could have been adapted from OMD. This provides an upbeat contrast to the lyrics as she and guitarist Jack Gaby perform light-hearted dance moves involving star jumps and running on the spot.
Her appreciation of 80s synth-pop continues on her encore of Cyndi Lauper’s ‘Time After Time’, for which she invites her band to sing acapella around one mic. It’s a moment that’s both endearing and slightly awkward, which sums up her core appeal.