At around 10:30 p.m. on Oct. 6, Tash Sultana, donning an oversized black T-shirt, plaid pants and a black beanie, stepped barefoot onstage at the 9:30 Club to receive her thundering crowd.
“Was anyone at my last show in D.C.?” Sultana asked to thunderous applause. “Well, you obviously told your f- -king friends, cause they’re all here, aren’t they?” Sultana’s nonchalant humor and effortless apparel set the tone for the evening, which was memorable due to Sultana’s raw emotion, electrifying guitar skills and enamoring vocals.
At just 22 years old, Sultana defies genres and the norms of instrumentation. In just one year, she has gone from being a self-identified drug addict to touring sold-out crowds both in the United States and abroad.
The Melbourne native broke into the mainstream in 2016 with her hit single “Jungle,” an indie alt-rock anthem that she recorded in her parents’ basement. Riding the tides of her viral success, Sultana signed a record deal with Lonely Lands Records before releasing her six-track EP “Notion” in 2016 and garnering almost three million monthly listeners on Spotify.
The Pierce Brothers, a Melbourne-based folk duo that consists of two passionate, skilled multi-instrumentalists, opened for Sultana. The frenzied crowd was caught in the middle of the enchanting sounds of Jack Pierce’s drumming and the furious acoustic guitar-playing of his brother, Patrick Pierce. At one point, the brothers even played the one guitar simultaneously.
After some final blows on the didgeridoo, which reverberated across the venue with a deep, resonant sound, the brothers received a riotous ovation from the largest audience for which they had ever performed.
“Travelling in America, my brother and I never would have gotten the opportunity to go to the places we have on this tour, supporting Tash,” the drummer said in an interview with the Hoya. “No one knows who we are; they have no reason to know who we are. But getting this exposure is an incredible opportunity. And for that, I couldn’t be more grateful.”
After lighting and backdrop changes, as well as set alterations to account for the 10 different instruments that would be played that night, Sultana stepped on stage ready to perform.
Illuminated entirely by hues of dark blue and a dim, unfiltered yellow, Sultana let out a few sonorous and echoing high-pitched riffs from her electric guitar — an improvised opening for her 21-minute song entitled “Big Smoke.” Featuring looping tracks of similarly polished guitar melodies, bass lines, beatboxing and drum sets all performed by Sultana, “Big Smoke” showcased the intonations of her seemingly fragile yet resonant voice, ranging from tense higher pitches to softer crooning.
In sharp contrast with the near silence of the crowd, Sultana sang with piercing volume, “When the big smoke comes I know the way / I want to sail my way home,” reflecting on her nine-month battle with drug-induced psychosis at age 17.
Notable in Sultana’s performance was her ability to blend multiple songs together to create fluidity between performances. As the stage lighting gradually changed from shades of blue to purple and then red, so too did the intensity of Sultana’s set. Building slightly upon the mellow lulls of “Big Smoke, Pt. 2,” the merging of songs like “Gemini” and “Murder to the Mind” created a distinctive blend of sounds and emotions.
For her next song, Sultana transitioned to “Synergy,” released on the long-play “Notion.” The performance was a heavy, anthemic riff reminiscent of The White Stripes, alternating between softer and fiercer, raspy vocals. Sultana also demonstrated her instrumental prowess with a raw and violent solo as she switched between electric guitar and mandolin partway through her rendition, following it up afterwards with a pan flute beatbox.
Before moving on to “Notion” and “Harvest Love,” two songs dealing with heartbreak and the struggle for self-acceptance, Sultana spoke to the crowd about her battle with depression and her attempts to work under her demanding tour schedule, making this the most vulnerable moment of the concert.
“That’s the scariest point of your life that you can get to: when your perception of reality is so distorted that it doesn’t matter if it’s the sunniest day, you’re f- -king dying inside,” she said. “Being is the most important part because we’re always doing all this f- -king s- – -t that we don’t really need to do, and we forget how to be. This song is about that.”
Sultana closed off her performance with her biggest hit and most personal song to date, the hard-hitting microcosm of everything Tash Sultana: “Jungle.”
“A little while ago, I was in my bedroom in my parents’ house; when I used to live there, I wrote a song that changed my whole life,” Sultana said regarding the origins of the song, before thanking the crowd.
Finally, Sultana improvised a 10-minute acoustic guitar solo encore. With stylistic flair, the encore was, at once, beautiful, rapturous and virtuosic, simultaneously providing the perfect conclusion to a soulful show and marking the beginning of a predictably successful career for Sultana in the United States.