Live Recap: Stella Donnelly's Sold Out Soiree at Schubas Tavern
“I just took a Malört shot to the eye!” Stella Donnelly exclaimed to the sold out crowd at Schubas Tavern on Friday night, March 29th. *Record Scratch, Freeze-Frame* You’re probably wondering how we got here…so let’s start at the beginning, when Faye Webster opened up the show at 9PM.
The music room had filled in, with fans eager for the evening’s performances, when Webster took the stage accompanied by only one bandmate; Pistol, who played a pedal steel guitar. Webster’s gentle vocals made for the perfect way to ease everyone into the concert, with Pistol’s pedal steel providing a dreamy, surfy vibe to the songs to put everyone in the room in a groovy trance. Webster threw in some surprises during her set too; first with a creative cover of “Cheap Thrills” by Atlanta rapper Feather and second, when she pulled out a yo-yo to show off some tricks she’d recently learned. The best surprise came when Webster invited an audience member by the name of Xion onstage to perform some serious yo-yo tricks, which were greeted with thundering applause and cheers from the crowd.
After the exhilarating yo-yo tricks at the end of Webster’s set, the room was buzzing with nothing but good vibes when Stella Donnelly took the stage shortly after. The last time I had seen Donnelly, she had played a solo set opening up for Natalie Prass at Lincoln Hall, and her debut album Beware of the Dogs had not yet been announced. At the Lincoln Hall show, Donnelly had completely commanded the room with just her voice, her guitar, and her witty banter. And at the Schubas show on Friday, Donnelly once again showed off her chops as a solo performer by opening her set playing a handful of songs sans her touring bandmates. For most of this first portion of the show, Donnelly had an infectious positive attitude about her, and she kept the mood light with some cheeky humor. When it came time for Donnelly to perform “Boys Will Be Boys,” a weighted song that tackles the subject of sexual assault, she gave a content warning about the subject matter before sharing that the song was inspired by an incident that happened to a close friend. Donnelly’s candid and fearless approach to her songwriting comes across on many of her songs, but particularly in this track, which acts as a timely reminder for everyone to believe and support survivors.
When it came time for Donnelly’s full live band to join the mix, the infectious energy that she had exuded on her own only multiplied, and you could feel the joy bouncing between bandmates as they looked to be having the time of their lives playing together. They all had such an easy-going manner and their chemistry as bandmates came across as natural, like they were all just old friends jamming out. Between the laid-back nature of the bandmates and Donnelly’s flawless vocal execution and charm, you couldn’t help but be hooked on this performance. The feel-good mood came to a high when Donnelly invited Faye Webster and Xion (and their yo-yos) back up on stage for the ironically upbeat tune “Die.” The bandmates, Webster, and Xion ended the song in a coordinated dance, which was obviously met with deafening cheers by the audience.
Now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for...the Malört shots. Earlier in the set, Donnelly had mentioned between songs that one of her bandmates had yet to try the infamous Chicago liquor, which is a rite of passage for anyone visiting our city. Luckily for Donnelly’s band members, Malcom Brown (of Whitney) was in the crowd that night, and he saved the day by bringing up a tray full of Malört just as the final full-band song of the night, “Tricks,” was coming to a close. Cue: Donnelly taking her shot and getting some of it in her eye. Like a champ, Donnelly went on with the show and wrapped up her first sold out headline show in Chicago with a solo rendition of “Mechanical Bull,” throwing in some improvised lyrics; “There’s Malört in my throat” in place of “You've been at my throat.”
Between the impeccable musicianship, cheery stage presence, and moments of humor, I couldn’t have imagined a more perfect start to the weekend than Stella Donnelly’s show. Easily one of the best shows I’d seen in a while, Stella Donnelly is not to be missed if she’s performing in a city near you. Check out her upcoming tour dates here, and relive the fun of Friday’s gig with the photo gallery below.