It was a typical end-of-summer night at the Terrace, a slight chill in the air as stars rose above Lake Mendota, beer flowed from pitchers and a crowd of people bounced to the sounds of a groovy flute and song lyrics about amusement park rides. New Orleans-based band Tank and the Bangas poured their infectious energy over the crowd and kept them moving along with the rhythms of their jazz-gospel-funk-soul-infused jams.
Tank and the Bangas gained recognition after winning National Public Radio’s Tiny Desk contest. The victory gave them the opportunity to perform behind the same desk in the eclectic office which has been visited by numerous well-known artists, including Chance the Rapper and Adele. The video of the performance has been viewed more than 2 million times on YouTube, and their live performance exhibited exactly why people keep clicking on it.
Lead vocalist Tarriona "Tank" Ball electrified the stage alongside the other five band members, waving her voluptuous ponytails around to the smooth jazz plunks of the keyboard and crooning of the saxophone. She maintained her high energy levels throughout the performance by warping her voice, sliding from belting deep, juicy gospel notes to spouting high-pitched, staccato spoken word phrases. Each song had a variety of sounds and quick changes blended together; it was hard to believe that a polished product had come from the modge-podge of noises.
Ball and backup vocalist Anjelika "Jelly" Joseph played off of each other, bouncing back and forth, finishing each other’s sentences and singing noises that weren’t just words. Their lyrics told stories, many of which took on a humorous, light feeling as the musicians bopped to words and grinned throughout their set.
They performed perhaps their most well-known song, “Quick,” the one which snagged them the Tiny Desk performance and a track that listeners can’t help but raise their hands in the air and dance to. They also showcased several songs off of their only full-length album, Think Tank, including their slower tune, “Rollercoasters.” The song started with a spoken word portion performed by Ball, in which she describes the rides as a metaphor for falling in love.
“I've always wondered why people rode rollercoasters,” Ball half-sang in her melodic drawl. “Why the feeling of throwing up brought about some type of excitement that they didn't receive on a regular day … I've always wondered why people rode rollercoasters, and I remember, I remember when I did.”
Ball dominated the stage during the set, her face vibrant with expression and her body never resting. She played off of the audience, sassed cameras pointed at her and mingled with her bandmates, entertaining the audience with her presence alone and blowing us out of the water with her remarkable, ever-changing vocals. Her poetic skills were obvious, as was the inspiration the band took from a wide range of musical genres.
Tank and the Bangas exhibited such incredible musical skill and showmanship during their set that I was shocked the show was free. Their rise to fame was launched with the Tiny Desk video, but after seeing them perform live, I know their career is a rollercoaster chugging its way to the peak of the tracks.