Live Review: Stella Donnelly, Jade Imagine, Mia June @ Northcote Theatre

1 March 2023 | 1:40 pm | Andy Hazel

Undoubtedly, the collective call’s pretty hard to pick holes in a perfect show.

(Pic by Andy Hazel)

More Stella Donnelly More Stella Donnelly

Tonight (24 February) is unseasonably balmy, and the queue flowing down High Street toward Ruckers Hill is filled with stylish people who are clearly very excited to be there. In fact, Sydney’s Mardi Gras would be hard-pressed to have a queerer crowd than the one filing inside and filling the front of Northcote Theatre. This is the first show of Stella Donnelly’s national tour to promote her new album Flood, and no one here wants to miss a second, not even of opening act Mia June.

“I’ve never been here before. You guys are so nice!” the Perth singer-songwriter says with a genuine sense of surprise. Everything she does seems genuine, and we adore it. June and her four-piece band play a song she introduces as “the most depressing song I’ve ever written.” One that, over a few simple thrummed chords, builds to a climactic chorus of “I think about you now as if you’re dead.” The audience cheers the song as it is still playing, largely because of June’s humble delivery and colossal voice. 

Other songs, Melbourne, Try To Cry, Hungry, and the closing Fish In A Bowl, showcase her combination of diary-specific moments (one song about a former partner’s “shit poetry” goes over especially well) and her ability to swoop from a back-off-the-mic piercing high note to a confessional whisper. Mia June is a real discovery and a talent unlikely to remain at the bottom of a bill for long. 

Following June’s youthful confessionalism would be tricky for anyone. Thankfully, Jade Imagine deal in a very different energy. Opening with Gonna Do Nothing, the first in a set heavy with songs from 2022’s immaculately produced album Cold Memory, the sense of restraint and their signature cool touch perhaps come across as too controlled for the crowd. Well-crafted songs, leavened with warm synth, cooed vocals and the occasional George Harrison-esque guitar lick, is a terrific combination, but much of its power is lost in a room that seems to prefer overt personality and close-mic’ed melodic pop than chilled synth-driven grooves. 

Cold Memory is a Goldfrapp-esque slice of dark synthwave driven by a Herculean bass riff that should have turned the crowd into disciples. Instinct That I Want To Know pushes the BPM and generates a tension between Jade McInally’s moody vocals and the band’s surging rhythm section, giving a sense of taking flight. It’s a combination that is also used especially well in their set closer; the gorgeous I Guess We’ll Just Wait, a song that generates the enthusiastic response they deserve.

Stella Donnelly arrives beaming over the similarly insistent beats of Tavares’ disco classic Heaven Must Be Missing An Angel blasting over the PA, but barely audible over the cheering of the crowd. Stella is enthused by this. Really enthused. She opens her set with Lunch from her 2019 album Beware Of The Dogs, which gets explored as thoroughly as the album she’s here to promote, Flood

Regardless of her songs’ subjects, most of which range from pretty dark to very dark, everything is delivered with a wide Emma Wiggle-style grin (and that’s long before we get to Die with its “everybody join in” crab dance, a performance that could easily double as an audition tape to join Australia’s best known colour-coded entertainers). But given the energy on stage and the volume of love in the room for Donnelly's songs (and by virtue of their intimacy, her), it’s impossible to imagine them being delivered any other way.  

“This song is dedicated to anyone who peaked in high school,” she says, introducing Medals. To judge by the response, it sounds like we all peaked in high school. Later, she apologises for her new haircut, a shoulder-length perm. “I look like a half-sucked mango pip,” she jokes, though, to this reviewer, it's a welcome reminder of her magnificent antecedent, Angie Hart. Donnelly’s hair acts as another means to express her dynamism as she twists her head when she’s not singing, as she rushes from instrument to instrument between songs and as she bugs out to the few sections of a song in which she’s not playing. We’re bugging out too. 

Don't miss a beat with our FREE daily newsletter

How Was Your Day?, Flood, Move Me, and Beware Of The Dogs are bops that turn the audience into an almost-deafening choir. But the moments that truly stun are those quieter ones. Jack Gaby and Julia Wallace’s fluid multi-instrumentalism, Donnelly’s show-stopping, tear-jerking take on Underwater, with its billowing clouds of dry ice in purple light, the surprise choral ending to This Week and her invitation for Gaby to “do some Norah Jones shit” on the piano during her memorable ode to self-love, Mosquito. Whatever she does, the audience wants more of it.

Lungs is one of Donnelly’s greatest examples of what she does best, making empathy sound irresistible. That this wasn’t the song to take her from sharehouse favourite to household name is mystifying. Donnelly thanks her band, tells us we’re amazing and closes her set with Tricks, which sees her on her back kicking her legs in the air before somehow delivering another example of egoless vocal pyrotechnics. With no encore, just Talking Heads’ Burning Down The House valiantly failing to drown out the cries of “one more song”, people file out, laughing about how they’ll see each other Tuesday night at Julia Jacklin’s show at the Forum. Undoubtedly, the collective call’s pretty hard to pick holes in a perfect show.