Maggie Rogers supported by Stella Donnelly at Festival Hall, Melbourne, Thursday May 23, 2019.
All images by Tim Lambert.
Stella Donnelly (support)
At the top of her set, support act Stella Donnelly includes a thorough Acknowledgement of Country. As soon as she starts to sing, we swoon over that pretty vibrato. Donnelly is accompanied only by Jennifer Aslett (“My friend Jenny”) – who also plays bass in San Cisco – this evening. Her banter is always on point and Donnelly introduces U Owe Me, which is about a dodgy boss she had while working at a pub in Freo. “And his name is…” she jests, choosing not to name and shame tonight.
Aslett leaves the stage momentarily and Donnelly accompanies herself on guitar for Beware Of The Dogs – that chorus melody! Donnelly’s poignant lyrics make us well up during Boys Will Be Boys, as she sings about a friend who was sexually assaulted (“You invaded her magnificence”).
Donnelly then tells us she received an email earlier today asking whether she would talk to Kyle and Jackie O, which was brought on by the breakfast radio duo’s lyrical mention in her song Tricks (“Driving back from the job with Kyle and Jackie O”). (She declined, of course.)
Before performing Old Man, Donnelly reveals her dad wants everyone to know this song’s not about him. Donnelly’s extensive vocal range is on full display throughout Lunch and her beaming smile lights up the room. Initially a bit chatty, ‘the House of Stoush’ audience is completely won over by set’s close.
The lights go dark and then rise to splash a rich purple across the stage, as the familiar opening gliss of ABBA’s Dancing Queen peals out: Maggie Rogers has chosen to begin proceedings with an entrance song that couldn’t be more apt for her bewitchingly lively, girl-next-door approach to performing – and this woman performs her heart out. I mean it. DON’T STOP HER NOW.
Leaping onto stage while fanning out the wings of her diaphanous, bright red scarf, Rogers hurls herself straight into choice cuts from her excellent album of January this year, Heard It In A Past Life: the HAIM-fresh Give A Little; the gorgeous, heart-shredding Burning; and the sensual R’n’B-angled Say It, during which her synth and bass players enthusiastically match her body rolls.
At 25 years old, she’s not a kid – nor is she by any means the taciturn young woman who floored Pharrell during a uni workshop three years ago. But there is still something very innocent about her: her tireless, improvised dancing (a pursuit she described as “really the most instinctual way we can experience music” in our interview of early 2017) comes across like someone doing what she thinks performers are supposed to do – or perhaps, what she wishes they’d do, so she’ll take up that mantle, thankyouverymuch. It’s completely beguiling, and much more honest than most of her peers.
Often on the edge of giggles as she marvels at the crowd’s cheering or singing her lyrics back to her, Rogers takes a moment prior to stand-out Dog Years to describe having first visited Australia 18 months ago, and performing at The Forum. “I will never forget that night for all my life, because I learned what an Australian show meant!” she laughs. “We always have the best f-cking time here.”
Later on she explains: “I write songs ‘cos I have a lot of feelings, as evidenced by my performance so far.” (Cue massive, rolling stamps and cheers from her audience, at which Rogers unabashedly laughs with delight.) And towards the end, she makes an incredibly eloquent speech to thank us, reflecting on her mental state when she was last in the country. “I’ve been all over Australian TV talking about a moment from three years ago,” she smiles, “and I haven’t stopped moving since. I never knew what version of myself I’d find once I got on stage, but in Australia I always feel so held, and so supported.”
Having meandered her way through the album and the EP which preceded it (Now That The Light Is Fading, 2017), we’re treated to the double-header of Leave The Light On and of course Alaska, the song that started it all. Rogers leaves her audience absolutely enraptured; her fanbase here is possibly more ardent than even she realised, but now she knows it for sure.
Heard It In A Past Life is out now via EMI.