Stella Donnelly: The little and the big

Stella Donnelly | Mark Thompson photos

It was a cinch that Australian singer-songwriter Stella Donnelly was going to win the hearts of the Fuji Faithful as soon as she walked on the stage. Diminutive but wearing a big smile and even bigger earrings, she exuded the kind of sincere confidence of an ingenue who knows not only what she’s worth but how to make it worth it to others.

She wisely did her first four songs solo, just her and her electric guitar, which she played with a knowing simplicity that indicated real chops even if she wasn’t going to show them off. But it was mainly the voice that made everyone fall in love with her: big but not brassy, pure but not mannered, high but not girlish like other indie singers of her ilk. It was a full instrument that cut through the Red Marquee like a knife.

It also put paid to her subject matter, which is mostly about what jerks most people are, and by most people, I mean men. Though English songs tend to go over the heads of the Japanese audience if they haven’t studied them beforehand, Donnelly’s “You Owe Me,” about an asshole boss who “jerks off to CCTV” seemed to make a deep impression. Hasn’t everyone had such a boss? In any case, the song sparked an ovation that was obviously not just a reaction to the limpid melody and Donnelly’s delivery.

After getting the crowd to say hello to Donnelly’s dad back in Australia, watching presumably on YouTube, she brought out her band, which she described as “old friends,” meaning they’ve known each other as human beings longer than they have as musicians, and the camaraderie showed. At one point, she and her utility man, Jack, did some “dance moves” (though at first I thought she said “dad moves,” which, considering the pokey quality of the movements, wasn’t far off) to the song “Die,” which isn’t an imperative, but used in the sense of “I don’t want to…” In any case, it was a very upbeat and fun song, hence the lockstep choreography, which had more to do with school calisthenics than with Janet Jackson. Unfortunately, the shed was packed, so there was no room for the audience to hop along, though many tried their best, cracking Donnelly up at one point. Not many new artists get to appreciate the whole spectrum of Japanese audience participation during their very first show in the country. She obviously felt blessed.