From tiny desks to fine arts museums, Tank and the Bangas have played some unconventional venues. Their energy is always infectious no matter where they are, and that was the case at their show at the Museum of Fine Arts on Wednesday night. But while they have style, talent, and fun in abundance, they should still anticipate some growing pains.
The New Orleans-based group played as part of the MFA’s summertime Concerts in the Courtyard series. Bands set up for a small crowd in the museum’s courtyard, a shady space boxed in by ivy-covered walls. Tank and The Bangas’ unique mix of spoken word, hip-hop, funk, and R&B (say a genre and they probably got it covered) gave the stately space a life it wouldn’t have otherwise.
It’s a small venue and a small stage that somehow managed to fit everybody: Tarriona “Tank” Ball and Anjelika “Jelly” Joseph on vocals, Merell Burkett Jr. and Norman Spence II on the keys, Josh Johnson on the drums, Jonathan Johnson on the bass, and Albert Allenback—making some excellent goofy faces—on the saxophone and flute.
After a musical hello, the band launched straight into “Quick,” the showstopper that grabbed them their Tiny Desk Contest win. Then they worked their way through other songs from their first album, Think Tank, including a funny jam called “Boxes and Squares.” The crowd was up and dancing, but after a while, the songs started to blend together. Stronger songwriting—already hinted at by “Quick,” a single that came out after Think Tank—could fix this problem for future tours.
Regardless, the whole band sizzled with energy, and they used that energy to break down the barrier between the band and the audience. Allenback made everybody stand up, which meant everybody started dancing. People clapped and laughed as Johnson entertained them with an especially crunchy bass solo. For the final song, Tank pulled the best dancers onstage and gave them a chance to groove with her. Few bands work as hard as Tank and The Bangas does to cultivate a relationship with their fans.
Tank took advantage of quiet interludes between songs for some spoken word riffing on love and heartbreak. What if she comes back in the next life as a wind chime, and her love interest comes back as a toilet? How will they meet? Those interludes were funny but seemed scripted. Tank and the Bangas could do with the same sense of jammy spontaneity that their Tiny Desk performance proved they’re capable of.
This review wouldn’t be complete without a shout-out to Tank’s fellow NOLA band Sweet Crude. They felt like part of the main show, not just an opening act. Their website calls their style “drum pop Louisianais,” and it’s both succinct and accurate. Heavy drumbeats underlay earworm hooks and—here’s the fun part—lyrics that are half in English and half in Cajun French. Alexis Marceaux’s vocals in “Mon Esprit” soar high and dip low, with a satisfying rasp and seemingly zero effort from the person delivering them.
Tank and the Bangas haven’t yet reached their full potential, but there are no indications that they won’t. Following bands as they grow and develop is one of the most satisfying things about loving music, and Tank and the Bangas’ journey will be a pleasure to hear.
You can catch Tank and the Bangas at the Sinclair on September 14.