By Jose Mujica
May 16, 2018
A certain, unmistakable and distinctly New Orleans vibe took over the Visulite Theatre last night, as it hosted Tank & The Bangas; the funky, soulful, jazzy musical ensemble that’s been selling out shows all across the country. Tickets to the event were gone long before they boogied into town, a testament to the ever-increasing hype the group seems to be generating ever since winning NPR’s Tiny Desk Contest in 2017. And it’s easy to see why the group has received such accolades within the past year. Their blend of soul, hip hop, funk and slam poetry is vibrantly colorful, unapologetically loud, emotionally moving and infectiously fun.
Fellow New Orleans natives, Sweet Crude, took to the stage first to warm up the crowd. In their brightly colored pastel outfits, big smiles and sugar sweet aesthetic, they set the mood for the evening’s entertainment. Sam Craft, the bespectacled, curly-haired frontman of the band emerged in a white blazer bedazzled with pink stones carrying a fiddle. His female counterpart, Alexis Marceaux, followed suit in a brightly colored dress, big glasses and even bigger smile. Taken altogether, the air of goofy, over-the-top campiness was a bit surprising, and most of the crowd wasn’t sure what to expect. As they began to play their dancey, multi-instrumental indie pop numbers, it all made perfect melodical sense. Their catchy harmonizing and bouncy Big Easy rhythm melted away the stiffness of the crowd and one couldn’t help but let the music flow through them. Lubricated by some drinks at the bar and encouraged by the playful silly rapport of the band, the inhibitions of the crowd were all but thrown out the window as people shimmied to their songs and exclaimed their appreciation for the band’s musicality and choreography. Never going more than a few minutes without shouting out their home state of Louisiana, the creole influence is worn proudly on their sleeves with several songs written and performed in the Louisiana French dialect. Having successfully converted a reserved and polite crowd into a markedly more loud, boisterous and expressive one (such as those one may find in New Orleans), Sweet Crude took their bow and left the stage, with a venue full of new fans.
As more people eagerly packed towards the front of the venue in anticipation of the headlining act, the excited murmuring of the crowd was palpable. Given the energy expelled during the dancing of the opening set and the influx of people arriving to catch Tank and the Bangas, the temperature seemed to have risen as sweat began winding its way down people’s faces. But nothing compared to the New Orleans heat Tank and her Bangas brought once they made their way on stage. One by one they filtered in, taking their place at their respective instruments. With each member’s entrance, they were greeted with loud raucous applause, culminating in a long and drawn out cheer of admiration once Tank herself took the stage.
She wasted no time as they immediately broke into their rendition of Kendrick Lamar’s “Untitled 7,” more commonly known as “Levitate.” Upon instant recognition of the song, the crowd snapped into action as if it were a rallying cry and joined their voices to the chorus allowing Tank to elevate the hype to new levels. Tank grasped the full attention of the room and simply did not let go for the rest of the night. Once she started rapping, the vocal inflections and silly voice changes she uses kept the audience captivated, a vocalization style that is part of the new wave of hip hop. When it comes to instrumentation, they’re in a class of their own, using a myriad of sounds to wildly re-imagine covers with Tank’s energetic, lovable, charismatic aura.
Throughout their set, Tank and the Bangas masterfully transitioned from the debaucherous booty shaking bounce to slower, more jazz influenced numbers with lyrics delving into the heartbreak, love, and resiliency of their city after Katrina. The juxtaposition of careless and raunchy fun alongside more heavy subject matter may be confusing to some, but it captures the spirit of the people of New Orleans. Tank and her group demonstrated how partying in the face of oppression isn’t merely an act of healing, but an act of resistance. The group collectively enjoys the aspects of life meant to be celebrated, shining light, love and positivity through the darkness across the country, wherever they land.
A highlight of their set was their slow, soulful cover of Outkast’s “Roses,” a popular song that one couldn’t really sing to because of Tank’s unique delivery. Another highlight was their rendition of “Swag Surf” which had the entire pit swaying side to side with one another. The most lively part of the night may have came at the end, when Tank and her Bangas played the classic Nirvana grunge rock song “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” The venue erupted as people screamed along the lyrics, jumping and headbanging their way through the song.
As they exited the stage, one by one, in the reverse order they appeared, the cheers and screams of the crowd did not cease. Considerable applause lingered after they left the stage, and the audience expressed their gratitude, which eventually turned into a chant of “encore.” We weren’t ready to get off the Tank ride just yet. After a few minutes of seemingly no response, people began to file out. The band then abruptly filed back onstage to fulfill the audience’s plead for one more song. They performed “Rollercoasters,” a slower and powerful spoken word piece that seemed a fitting end to the musical journey we experienced.