Fresh off their Tiny Desk Contest victory, members of Tank and The Bangas have taken to extensive touring and honing their live performance to the bombastic whirlwind that it is.
Fronted by tenacious frontwoman Tarriona “Tank” Ball, the seven-piece neo-hip-hop group maneuvered its way through an animated set and kicked off the 27th annual High Sierra Music Festival with a frenzied assault on the senses. While many groups would have felt slighted at being assigned the very opening slot of a four-day festival, the New Orleans-based septet relished the opportunity and used it to captivate the minds, bodies, and spirits of everyone at the Vaudeville Tent.
Highlights of the set included “Quick” the song that won them the NPR competition, “Boxes and Squares” a laid back rhodes-driven take on a love that could have been, and an aggressively dynamic cover of Anderson .Paak’s “Come Down” that featured off-kilter verses and a 2-ton chorus that rounded up the crowd in a collective “oh shit” moment. These highlights, though, weren’t stand alone songs as much as they were pit stops in an amorphous set that ebbed and flowed with the audience. The songs often felt like skits that were one part masterful crowd work and three parts inventive songwriting.
Backing vocalist Anjelika “Jelly” Joseph was magnetic as Ball’s sidekick. Together, the two women reinvented the rapper/hype-man dynamic (imagine if Busta Rhymes and Spliff Star grew up as theater kids) and commanded the stage from the first song, their energy immediately contagious.
The band was rounded out with two keyboardists, Norman Spence and Merell Burkett, who were responsible for the show’s rich soundscape, Albert Allenback on alto sax/flute/headbanging, bassist Jonathan Johnson, and drummer/musical director Joshua Johnson.
For musicians, the performance was a clinic on commitment in showmanship. Between Ball’s almost cartoonish delivery and the spirited interaction between band members, the noontime set quickly acquired the feel of a late-night club gig. For the first set on the first day of the festival no one would have blamed Tank and The Bangas if they had taken it easy, played their songs, and coasted through their performance, but the group did the opposite and the energy was set for the rest of the day because of it.
As we enter Day 2 of High Sierra Music Festival, Tank and The Bangas is already a heavy favorite to be, in my opinion, the best act of the weekend. The instrumentation, tight performance, and songwriting served as a refreshing change of pace for a festival that relies heavily on guitar solos and danceable but repetitive changes.