Concert Review - Stella Donnelly - Ace of Cups, Columbus, OH - 03/27/2019
If any of you read my review of Stella Donnelly’s breakthrough debut album “Beware of the Dogs” then you know how deeply my love for this album and this artist runs. For those who didn’t read my review (*cough* MOM), I’ll briefly summarize it; Donnelly is what I assume the lovechild of Lily Allen and fellow countrywoman Courtney Barnett would turn out to be. Incredibly playful vocals mixed with humorous and poignant lyrics make for a charming debut for this young star. “Beware of the Dogs” is absolutely my current pick for personal album of the year, and the album has garnered quite a bit of attention from larger music news outlets; both reviews at NME and Rolling Stone gave the album four stars out of five, while, oddly enough, the reviewer at Pitchfork only gave the album a 7.6 (I leave that decision to the fact the album came out so early this year, that particular reviewer is probably saving those higher scores for later in the year). Meanwhile, the (few so far) people have spoken at Metacritic giving the album an 8.2, while the registered critics have given it an 81 of 100. I personally gave the album a hard four out of five.
I got the incredible opportunity to see Donnelly recently on her first stop through Columbus at one of my favorite Columbus venues, Ace of Cups. I’m not particularly clued in on who chooses the venues an artist stops at, but it wasn’t surprising that Donnelly would end up in that particular venue here; Ace of Cups is well known for its safe space standards in the local music scene, which meshes well with the messages both Stella Donnelly and her touring partner and label-mate Faye Webster embed in their respective music. Speaking of Faye Webster, if she’s not on your radar, she absolutely should be! I’m guilty of not looking into her before the show, but I invited my dear friends Hannah and Lauren along to the show with me, as well as Hannah’s sibling Abram, and was bombarded by ecstatic texts from Hannah when she recognized the opening act from her playlist of Bonnaroo artists, as Webster will be playing the final day of the Midwest music festival. Webster was charming in all the same ways Donnelly is: adorable but with a definite bite. Besides showcasing songs from her upcoming album “Atlanta Millionaires Club” (out 5/24) as well as songs from her previous two albums, the 21-year-old Atlanta native showed off her rather impressive yo-yo skills for the audience. She manned her own merch table and was happy to chat with us while I picked up a very adorable enamel pin depicting Webster’s likeness wearing her signature sun visor, and Hannah absolutely did not come off as a crazy fan while telling her she would be front row for her Bonnaroo set.
Donnelly’s set was everything I thought it would be and more. She opened with the song “U Owe Me,” a song about her shitty boss (we can all relate). Before she began the song, she clued us into a very Australian reference to the beer “VB” and asked the audience for a suitable American replacement, to which the crowd unanimously shouted “PBR” and “Pabst Blue Ribbon” and she adorably enunciated every syllable of the word “Pabst” into the microphone, much to the crowd’s amusement. Her set continued with the title track “Beware of the Dogs” which showcased her larger-than-life vocals, and then on to the much softer “Boys Will Be Boys” which was preceded by a very candid and well received trigger warning and anecdote about the song’s origin. To alleviate the heavy mood of the sweet, sad song, she followed it up with “Mosquito,” telling us a brief story of how the song was accidentally played on a local radio station and how her mother was never meant to hear it, specifically the reference to her vibrator. When getting to that particular line in the song, she snuck in a “sorry mum!” and got quite a laugh from the audience.
Donnelly continued her set with songs including “Talking” from her “Thrush Metal” EP, her big, angry #MeToo ballad “Old Man,” and several other incredible songs from her debut album. I particularly enjoyed her rendition of “Seasons Greetings” as it is one of my favorite songs off the album, and one I relate to well being a bit of the black sheep of my family. One thing I love about the song is the final discordant and cacophonous verse of “fuck up your life,” “lose all your friends,” “intimidate” before a resounding and final “okay, good, fuck off,” which she perfectly translated from album to live performance thanks to her incredible backing band. She finished up her set with a few more “Beware of the Dogs” songs before wrapping up with another track from her EP “Mechanical Bull.” After her set, she was found dutifully conversing with fans and signing dozens of copies of her album. I planned to pick up a copy of “Beware of the Dogs” on vinyl for my friend Lauren so she might add it to her collection and because I had already picked up a copy on release day, but I expressed my love for the album and not so smoothly mentioned I had done a review for the album, and she warmly thanked me before tearing the plastic off a new copy and scribbling a personalized “Thank You Frankie!” on the cover before scribbling her signature. I promptly promised to bequeath Lauren with my unsigned copy at home. She was also more than happy to sign Lauren’s arm just for the laughs.
Stella Donnelly put on one of the best shows I’ve seen in quite awhile. She sounds exactly like her album in person, and her confidence is not cocky but warm and welcoming. She continues on her North American tour through the rest of this week before she heads over seas for the European leg of her tour, with a short trip to her homeland for a two-night performance at the Sydney Opera House. She lands back in the US in mid July for a couple more weeks, including a second performance here in Columbus at Skully’s Music Diner, before wrapping up her tour with a show in Japan a few more on the festival circuit in Europe. If you can’t catch one of her shows, I implore you to pick up a copy of the album in any form you can and give it a listen!