OAKLAND — In less than two years, Australian multi-instrumentalist looping artist Tash Sultana has risen from performing at the Swedish American Music Hall to headlining consecutive nights at the Fox Theater. Over that time, the artist has released one debut album: the spiritually psychedelic Flow State. But the album seems to be more of a climax than the journey, as most of the buzz surrounding the singer-songwriter originated from their (Sultana’s pronoun of choice) home-produced YouTube videos of layering instruments, voices and beatboxing to dramatic effect, which ebbed and flowed until boiling over.
Thursday at the Fox, on the first of two sold-out nights, Tash Sultana covered the majority of Flow State. The songs often blended from one to the next, pausing only so that Sultana—alone on stage and surrounded by various instruments, microphones, pedals and decks—could switch gears or pace. They emerged through a shroud of smoke and spent a minute building a bubbling R&B guitar tone on their guitar before strumming through the gentle “Seed.” That led into “Big Smoke,” which they created from some reggae-like guitar strumming, then adding bass, beat-boxed percussion, some synths and finally a trumpet, which they played one-handed during an interlude. Just when the song appeared to be finished, it changed states, turning into a guitar-led banger.
Sultana shredded away, leaving their cocoon of electronics for the first of several times to play at the lip of the stage. The show continued in much of the same way, with Sultana seemingly following every whim to deviate from the recorded versions of the songs to create something slightly new. One song dipped into ambient electronica that would have made Daniel Lanois smile. Another combined equal parts hip-hop beat with jazzy piano. The only traditionally “rock concert moment” came when she introduced “F.U.” as a song about how people who treated her poorly in the past have started resurfacing because of their successful streak.
“This song makes more sense to me now,” Sultana said.
Following “F.U.” they played the soulful “Free Mind,” while a metallic skeleton bobbed up and down on the screen behind them. As an aside, when Tash Sultana last headlined a show in the Bay Area, they didn’t even have a screen. A 12-minute rendition of the bittersweet “Notion” followed, with hit song “Jungle” afterward.
Australian sextet Ocean Alley opened the show with its own take on genre-blending sounds, mixing in psych-rock, funk, soul and a bit of reggae-via-Sublime. Tame Impala was another influence that came to mind. Ocean Alley’s roughly 40-minute set included a surprisingly smooth cover of Player’s 1977 No. 1 hit, “Baby Come Back.”
— Roman Gokhman