The new funk-soul sound of Tank and the Bangas

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Aslesha Kumar/Staff

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Being a new band isn’t nearly as easy as Tank and the Bangas makes it look. The funk-soul band from New Orleans blares its brand of everything-but-the-kitchen-sink music with a remarkable degree of self-assurance for a group so new to the scene. At The Chapel on Tuesday night, Tarriona “Tank” Ball led her band of “Bangas” through their mishmash of new-wave jazz, pop and spoken-word rap, sans nervous banter.

Technically speaking, Tank and the Bangas is not brand new — it was formed in 2011. In 2013, the band released Think Tank; in 2014, a live performance album: The Big Bang Theory: Live at Gasa Gasa. However neither of those projects garnered large audiences for Tank and the Bangas — “Oh Heart,” a middle track on Think Tank and its most popular track on Spotify, has under 500,000 listens.

This year, the band members won the NPR Tiny Desk Contest, and their performance has been watched nearly 2.5 million times since it was uploaded to Youtube in March.

So, for all practical purposes, Tank and the Bangas is a new band, having only just found its ticket to a wider spotlight of fans. But judging from the group’s performance and the crowd’s response last week, that would be hard to guess.

From the moment the large band filed on stage — filling in the last free space in the packed venue — until the end of its last tune, the group held up a performative display of confident experience alongside its overwhelmingly flamboyant, though undeniably genuine, joy.

The show was freewheeling. It skipped from up-tempo jazz to delicate, keyboard-backed poetry, from deep, booming soul to high-pitched runs, always with facial expressions to match. While each song spanned many minutes longer than is conventional — drawn out through indistinguishable improvised additions, interjected commentary, questions for the audience and a guided dance-along — each was distinct.

From “Quick,” Ball moved to “Oh Heart,” and later to “Rhythm of Life.” The tone of each song simultaneously contrasted the previous and flowed into the next. It was one of those nights where the audience bounces between the layered aspects of the show, but it all blurs together in retrospect.

In the moment, the audience’s momentum was insatiable. No one held still at any point. Sometimes Tank and the Bangas encouraged it, fueling the dance party with a command to “drop it low.” Sometimes, the band members danced alongside the crowd. Sometimes, they just watched it happen. But through all of it, they were cool and collected. No matter how joyous the song, how big their smiles or how wild their dance moves, they performed as seasoned performers. The members of Tank and the Bangas were clean and in control, enjoying their own music without abandoning the reality that they were putting on a show.

It was only at the end of the set, when applause wouldn’t subside for minutes, that their confident exterior fell away and they showed their newness to it all.

At first they watched appreciatively — the chords faded as the applause picked up, and they waved at the audience, happy but removed. When two minutes had gone by and the volume of applause hadn’t dwindled, they looked at each other in surprise. At five minutes, the bassist pulled out his phone and filmed us, incredulous. By eight, they didn’t know what to do with themselves. Overwhelmed, Ball got teary.

Eventually they left, the audience still clapping wildly. But even then it didn’t stop — stomps and calls for an encore pervaded the room for many more minutes until the band members trickled back out, surprised and a little frazzled.

They played “Rollercoasters” as an encore and the applause came back like “Groundhog Day,” bringing more emotion from the band as it did.

Tank and the Bangas deserves the sort of show closing that it got — it’s one of the few new bands out there that has managed to create a truly new sound. New sounds are hard to create because there are only so many ways for a band to combine the genres that exist and many of the combinations have already been made. Tank and the Bangas found a new one, and a good one at that.

Contact Olivia Jerram at [email protected].