If you step over the threshold of Newtown Social Club without feeling melancholy about its imminent closure, then frankly, your soul is broken. It’s a blessing that tonight’s main act offers such a pure blast of soulful, punching rock’n’roll.
But before we get to North Carolina, Sydney bluesman Frank Sultana performs a stripped-back, bluesy set to ease us into the upcoming assault. He cuts a lonely figure onstage, and with contemplative and observant lyrical content, he tells intricate stories atop the brooding and often menacing instrumentation created by his single acoustic guitar and pedal. ‘Jesus Take The Bottle’ hits particularly hard against his audience, many of whom are sitting on the floor enveloped in his music.
That soon changes. As her four bandmates take the stage, Nikki Hill gets ready to crank this place up to 11. No part of Hill’s body is still as she launches into ‘(Let Me Tell You ’Bout) LUV’, followed by the title track from her latest record Heavy Hearts, Hard Fists. The music carries her everywhere, shimmying, clapping and goading her husband and guitarist Matt Hill during his many solos. The whole band is completely alight, except for the drummer, who looks so incredibly bored that he may just keel over for a nap.
There are more tracks from her latest record, including ‘Struttin’ with a face-melting solo battle between Matt Hill and Laura Chavez. Elsewhere, the setlist includes covers of Barbara George and Chuck Berry tunes, as well Hill’s own high-voltage sounds from her debut record Here’s Nikki Hill up until her latest work. After hearing about the forthcoming closure of the very venue she stands in, all her efforts converge into one mission: “Let’s burn this place to the ground,” she says. “The proper way.”
She ends with an encore of ‘Oh My’ and a blistering cover of the AC/DC anthem ‘Rocker’, leaving all in the room exhausted but screaming for more. Hill’s got boundless energy, growling yet soulful vocals and those face-melting guitars, all after a weekend-long stint at Bluesfest. Long live the Southern Fireball.
Nikki Hill played Newtown Social Club on Monday April 17. Photo by Natalie Grono