I’ll set the scene: It’s Friday night. My sweet Jewish grandmother’s eyes would swim if she knew where I was (read: not at the JSoc sinking Manischewitz, but physically unsticking my shoes from SWX’s floors. SWX, if you’re reading this, please do something about the floors). I’m here to see Tank and The Bangas. Having dutifully scoured the alms of NPR Tiny Desk Concerts and Spotify back catalogues, I felt pretty sure I knew where the night was going. I mean, shit, New Orleans R&B? The occasional sliver of spoken word? Do not mind if and when I do. Friends… Listen, friends. Little did I fucking know. I had just enough time before the concert began to note the crowd, which was considerably older and whiter than I would have expected of Tank’s disciples. Had The Olds become cool? This is a Student article, friends, and these are the questions we ask — but I digress. The sea of wrinkled faces melted into blue and red triangles of light, all white glow and anticipation. And with that, like the concert equivalent of shaking five Smarties into your palm, Tank and The Bangas shook out five colourful boiler suit clad band members. And the concert began.
Tarriona Ball (Tank) thundered onto the stage in what I can only describe as what might happen if Elton John stitched all his earthly glitter into one kimono. Her entrance was electrifying: screaming into the microphone, waving her arms like a cartoon ghoul — I may have fever dreams of her ripping off the kimono to reveal a pink boiler suit until my dying day. My notes at this point read:
“Crazy glitter dress
I’m finding t hard to breathe
This is a religious experience
This is fucking bacchic”
And, friends, bacchic it was. What followed was a surreal beautiful shitstorm of boisterous improvisational jazz, rapid-fire verses, and rapport funnier than most comedy shows I’ve seen. The entire show was something out of a freaky spaceship. Tank and The Bangas refusal to settle within a single genre has left them in a impressively scarce position: jack of all trades, master of all. The capacity of Tank’s voice is genuinely staggering, shuttling from heart-throbbing honeyed soul to breakneck staccato to stomping caricaturish opera in the space of seconds. The sheer whiplash of The Bangas performance left me delirious with musical frisson.
At one point, a room-shaking drum solo by Joe Johnson in full swell, Tank took to the stage synth, tinkering around with the clumsy glee of a toddler on a Fisher-Price glockenspiel. She couldn’t play the synth, but she was having fun. We were having fun watching her have fun. Boy, did we want her to have fun. Perhaps there was also a element of relief: You know, she’s one of us. There are things she can’t do, and she’s cool with that. Shit, I can’t play the fucking synth either. Mere moments from these freshly weaned thoughts, I realised how wrong I was. The imprecision of Tank’s synthing grew steady, rhythmic. The tinkering became a song, and it slapped, and me and my wrinkly legion of fools really fucking kicked ourselves for being so damn presumptuous. How did we get fooled into thinking she didn’t know what she was doing? Friends, we were hoisted by the self-same petard. The band, continually toying with the audience, precluded any attempt to predict or define them.
Tank, almost kissing the microphone, spoke thus: “I need a favour from you guys.” 1050 ears strained to know. Tank, by this point in the concert, had become high priestess. “I need you to tell me where the nearest KFC is.” The crowd convulsed, shout-laughed; A sharply-dressed 30-something behind me shrieked “Yes! Yes! Whatever you say!” Of course, the real favour was to sing along with her. But we would have done either.