Review: Alex the Astronaut and Stella Donnelly at Oxford Art Factory, Sydney, 18 April 2018

Music Insight, 2018

Stella Donnelly and Alex the Astronaut have swapped noodles and astronaut suits for guitars in the first of their two sold-out shows at the Oxford Art Factory. They were supported by local artist JEFFE, and the ladies-only lineup delighted the crowd on Wednesday night.

Opening the show with dreamy indie-pop, JEFFE brought transcendent synth and woozy guitar sounds to the already packed venue. Her mention in Triple J Unearthed’s ‘Artists to Watch’ was well earned; evidenced in confident performances of ‘Whoever You Love’ and ‘I’m Cool’, and her chatting with the amiable crowd between songs. After her set, she quickly joined the crowd to excitedly welcome Stella Donnelly to the stage.

Starting her set with a cover of The Beatles’ ‘Across the Universe’, Stella didn’t shy away from hitting big notes and big tunes. Confidently strumming her millennial pink Fender Stratocaster, she crooned biting tracks like ‘You Owe Me’, ‘Seasons Greetings’, and her newly released single, ‘Talking’. The rumours that a full-length album is in the works have caught on, with most of the set list consisting of unreleased tracks that only the most dedicated followers have heard at previous gigs.

The night hit a serious tone when a content warning was dropped, and the crowd sang along to ‘Boys Will Be Boys’, a scathing critique of rape culture in Australian society. The timing couldn’t be more poignant after Sticky Fingers’ frontman Dylan Frost passed off allegations of sexual harassment saying that ‘boys will be boys’ in an interview with Tom Tilley on Hacklast week.

Alex the Astronaut and Stella Donnelly are both natural storytellers, and Alex’s performance of ‘Not Worth Hiding’, an LGBT+ anthem that hit #23 on the Hottest 100 this year, had all the resonance of ‘Boys Will Be Boys’. The atmosphere shifted as the crowd clapped along to ‘Rockstar City’ and ‘Holes In The Story’, which, to Alex’s own admission, sounds incredibly similar to Paul Kelly’s ‘To Her Door’.

We all have that one artist we’re obsessed with and Alex is no exception. Already referencing her adoration of Paul Kelly in ‘I Believe In Music’, she indulged the crowd with a plethora of Kelly related stories, including the time she drank a few too many glasses of red wine with him before a gig. Her trademark charm shone through as she sheepishly recounted how one glass turned to two, and how ‘when you’re eighteen and you’ve never had a certain kind of alcohol…’ you may end up performing tipsy in front of your extended family.

Ending the night with a ‘bogan singalong’ to the Jimmy Eat World hit ‘The Middle’, the crowd danced and sang after a night of deep storytelling and what was, at times, painfully relevant song writing. Their two sold out shows in Sydney are proof that there’s not only an audience for more female musicians in the Aussie scene, but that it’s an audience ready to go to the harder places and still dance the night away

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