When I saw that the viral band Tank and the Bangas
, who first rose to fame after winning NPR's Tiny Desk Contest, was coming to a little town right in my area, I knew I had to go. I had first heard of this band like most of their new fans, through YouTube; I stumbled upon them on Tumblr where someone posted their video submission
for the contest. I remember watching the video for the first time and being enamored by the band's personality. They were not just a group of musicians but rather a collective of weird, quirky, talented artists. Fast forward three months and they won the contest, garnering over 1 million views with their performance at the NPR office.
So you see it's easy to see why I just had
to see Tank and the Bangas live. When I arrived at the Roxy & Dukes Roadhouse in Dunellen, NJ I didn't know what to expect from the venue, the crowd, or the performance itself. The band consists of Tarriona Ball (lead Singer), Norman Spence (keys), Joshua Johnson (drummer/MD), Merell Burkett (keys), Etienne Stouflet (tenor saxophone), Albert Allenback (alto saxophone/flute), Jonathan Johnson (bass), Anjelika Joseph (backing vocals), and Kayla Jasmine (backing vocals)... PHEW.
Talk about a big band.
Before Ball came on stage, the rest of her band opened up the show. With vocals from Jelly, who usually sings backup, joined by the rest of the Bangas, they warmed up the crowd with a couple covers of funk classics and even a reggae cover of Jhené Aiko's "The Worst." This set went on for about an hour, the entire band was covered in sweat and the crowd was definitely warmed up. The Bangas were so in tune with each other. Throughout the songs I could see them exchanging glances, as if they were communicating on a secret musicians-only frequency where they had entire conversations about tempo change, what keys to play in and what song came next. It was clear that they were masters of improvisation. And sure Jelly usually sings back up, but don't count her out because the woman is an amazing vocalist all on her own. After the set, the audience was alive and we couldn't wait to see Tank come out on stage. I think we all figured if the Bangas were that amazing performing covers then surely we would be blown out of the water when they performed their original music.
Drenched in sweat, the band went backstage to prepare for the next set; the excitement was palpable. We knew that soon the woman we had all fallen in love with on the internet would soon be on stage performing the songs we had already heard hundreds of times. At one point someone behind screamed "THERE SHE IS" when Tank walked past the backstage door. I had never seen a group of adults so giddy in my life.
Finally Tank and the Bangas came on stage. Before Ball even got a chance to utter a word to the crowd, the applause broke out. And there she was, wearing camo shorts, a red flannel shirt and a fishing vet. If you are a loyal fan and follow her on social media then you would not be surprised by this ensemble and you'd recognize it as her free-spirited style. She greeted the crowd like we were all good acquaintances and she introduced the band as a group out of New Orleans, Louisiana just living out their dreams. You could tell that she was just so happy to be there with us in the club at that moment. She also acknowledged how hot it was in the venue, which was absolutely true -- it was hot as hell.
Some words that I would use to describe the performance that came after the greeting is high energy, theatrical, introspective and just plain fun. They played a mixture of their popular songs and songs that we weren't too familiar with. There was a variety of both up-tempo songs and slower songs. The highlights of the show seemed to be the songs that they performed at NPR. Their song "Boxes and Squares" starts off with a fun little flute melody performed by Albert that anyone can recognize right away. When Albert started playing, the venue fell silent so we could all hear him clearly -- it was a magical moment. After the flute came the rest of the band playing a softly, with lyrics about giving your all in a relationship when your partner doesn't deserve it. Another fan favorite of the night seemed to be "RollerCoasters," one of the slower songs of the night. The song is about the complexities of human emotion, as it asks the question "why do we like roller coasters when they're so scary?" and why we are so obsessed with the concept of thrills. What are we missing? When she he sings "Screaming for everything you shouldn't have said in that fight. Rollercoasters. It's like meeting God with a kite in your left hand."
Ball has a stage presence that makes everyone in the crowd feel like an individual. Towards the end of the show she introduced all of the band members to us by name. When Tank introduced Jelly by her full name Angelica she made a funny face as if to say "Hey don't embarrass me up here I'm trying to look cool!" it was such a genuine moment, we all laughed.
Once the show was over, Tank and the Bangas left us all wanting more, so we cheered for an encore and we got it. As the theatrical singer said her final goodbyes, she thanked us for being a great crowd. She expressed that she will miss small clubs and the energy that comes with it implying that as they grow in popularity, smaller venues such as the one were were in will no longer be doable. I was pretty damn happy to share this moment with the amazing band before they take over the world.