Concert review: Stella Donnelly and Natalie Prass at The Mothlight
The Stella Donnelly and Natalie Prass double bill at The Mothlight on Wednesday, Oct. 17, was one of those rare coin flip shows where the opener rivals the headliner through notably different means.
Unassumingly taking the stage with merely her electric guitar, Donnelly showcased advanced finger-picking and strumming in sync with powerful vocals. The Australian’s no-nonsense songs about broken relationships, a lousy former pub boss, and her government’s mistreatment of the country’s indigenous people played clearly through the venue’s textbook top-notch sound system, and though the prospect of one day hearing her creations augmented by a full band is appealing, for now they feel wisely unburdened by surplus instrumentation.
The straightforward approach worked especially well with the searing “Boys Will Be Boys,” about the aftermath of Donnelly friend’s sexual assault — a three-year-old, unfortunately evergreen song that’s even more potent in the wake of Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony.
Complementing Donnelly’s music were fun stage directions within a few songs — such as noting a fade out and an ersatz “sad violin solo,” which she provided through charming vocal substitution — and her witty banter. Along with thoughtful introductions to each song, she compared Asheville to her hometown of Fremantle, which she accused of copying the WNC city down to its cool tea shops.
Also humorous were her anecdotes about the making of her EP Thrush Metal, which she recorded on inexpensive equipment to 30 cassettes with a goofy cover photo of her eating noodles, figuring she’d be lucky to sell them to family and friends. Instead, the music caught on globally, and with it the album title and artwork, the combination of which has led her Welsh grandmother to become concerned about her mental wellbeing.
Following a brief inter-set break, Prass and her four-piece band charged to the stage from the downstairs green room to the tune of The Buckwheat Boyz “Peanut Butter Jelly Time.” Dressed in a sleek pink satin dress with a matching tie, the honey-voiced Richmond artist brought decent early energy despite the generally inanimate backing musicians and minimal tempo variety — similar to the start of her new album The Future and the Past — until “Never Too Late,” which she described as the yacht rock song she always wanted to write.
As if sensing the stagnation, Prass then sent the band away and brought on Donnelly for an enjoyable, stripped-down cover of Kylie Minogue’s “Can’t Get You Out of My Head.” Prass said it was the first time they’d performed the song together, and as Donnelly exited and the band returned, the detour appeared to spark new life across the ensemble as album standout “Sisters” kept the groove going.
The set’s second half was further bolstered by a fun aside with drummer and former Asheville resident Eric Slick (also Prass’ fiancé and part of Dr. Dog), prompting audience banter about the wildlife in his old Woodfin neighborhood as well as him activating an audio machine with animal and other peaceful nature sounds.
The comedy break segued nicely back to the renewed, elevated performance, though the night’s final two songs by a trio of Prass, guitarist Alan Parker, and keyboardist/vocalist Jacob Ungerleider gelling on chill numbers was a pleasant, well-earned change of pace and a superb way to end the show. Though such diverse Act II magic would have been nice from the start, better late — and with help from the opening act — than never.
(Stella Donnelly photo by Cooper Gordon/Gordonco Visuals)