New Orleans group Tank and the Bangas will absolutely blow your mind live. What they bang is an animated mix of gospel, soul, funk, rock, hip-hop, and spoken word that will have you dancing, actually participating in call-and-response crowd work, and maybe even hollering “amen!” In 2017 the group played a set at Pickathon’s scenic Treeline Stage, and I couldn’t decide if it felt more like the best outdoor party I’ve ever been to or a church-like revival.
I was particularly taken with lead vocalist/songwriter Tarriona “Tank” Ball’s insanely versatile voice and her completely uninhibited stage presence. In terms of ability, Tank’s the next Lauryn Hill. Armed with a spoken-word background, she’s able to switch from perfectly delivering storytelling rhymes to grabbing you by the heartstrings as she transitions to wailing and adlibbing her way through the rest of the song. With Tank already being a... well, tank of a frontwoman, the band fleshes out her spoken word and singing by 1000 percent.
I recently spoke with keyboardist Merell Burkett, who tells me his range of musical influences include Jay Z and Lil Wayne for hip-hop, with Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Herbie Hancock on the jazz side of things. He also draws inspiration from gospel artists like Kirk Franklin and Yolanda Adams.
In addition to Burkett, there’s also Norman Spence (synth, keys, bass), Joshua Johnson (drums), and Albert Allenback (alto saxophone, flute). When the group performs, the lineup often includes Anjelika “Jelly” Joseph, who provides vocal support and beautifully sings in adlib responses to complement Tank’s larger-than-life lead presence. The resulting back-and-forth improvisation is quite entertaining—the two were dubbed a “21st-century Run-DMC with funk” by Okayplayer. But for some reason, Jelly Joseph doesn’t appear in the press materials as an official band member, and is rarely pictured with Tank and the otherwise all-male group. I’m postponing being completely devastated about her absence because Burkett tells me that Jelly will be present for their show in Portland.
I suppose the only reason the group hasn’t blown up into the mainstream yet must be because they haven’t made an album since 2013. But many are still devouring their 2017 single “Quick,” which also has a killer video. A performance of the song won them NPR’s Tiny Desk Contest, which Burkett says is probably their biggest breakout moment to date.
Still don’t believe they’re all that good? Search for “Tank and the Bangas Paste Studios” on YouTube. Or, really, any of their live performances. Better yet, score tickets to their show at the Roseland, where the five-piece is co-headlining with fellow New Orleans native Big Freedia.
“The energy that Freedia brings is really, really, really, really up there,” Burkett says. “We gon’ try to match that. We’ve done a show with Freedia before and it was so much fun.”
After signing to the Verve Forecast label back in March, Tank and the Bangas’ next album is due in 2019. While the group continues to work on their follow-up to 2013’s Thinktank, they did recently drop a single, “Spaceships,” that takes their dreamy/animated/hip-hop party vibes to the next level, but at its core contains the same magical funkiness that’s infused in all of Tank and the Bangas’ songs. The new song sees them taking over Hank’s Market in New Orleans, daydreaming about wealth, embezzlement, and fame, and considering other questionable cash-grabs while working at their “day jobs.”
Burkett says the group has another new single and video on the way, and that the band will definitely be playing some new tunes on this “Head Banga Tour.”