It takes an extraordinary relationship between a group of musicians — colleagues or friends who inevitably become tight-knit like family — in order to produce and sustain some of the most cutting-edge sounds coming off any stage.
The glorious result of a durable and flourishing dynamic between the large number of members in this propulsive funk-soul-hip-hop-poetry vehicle, Tank and the Bangas has thrived through the pandemic thanks largely in part to the groundwork laid before it — and the proof was on display at 9:30 Club recently.
The New Orleans-based group — fronted by spirited, wildly entertaining lead singer Tarriona “Tank” Ball — won the 2017 NPR Tiny Desk Concert contest with its powerful, unforgettable performance and, following the release of its second studio album in the spring of 2019, was later nominated for a Grammy in the “Best New Artists” category for 2020, giving this squad all kinds of momentum to carry it through the past couple years.
With the group’s third studio album, Red Balloon, scheduled for release in May, Tank and the Bangas have been on tour since the fall, with the slate ramping up for the month of March and closing out on the East Coast. The schedule included a stop at 9:30 Club on March 21, a night that saw the V Street club packed to the brim, with the line still stretching way down the block as the opening act, the red-hot jazz-funk-soul guru Cory Henry, kicked things off.
Stream Tank and the Bangas 2020 EP, Friend Goals, via Spotify:
Following one of the grooviest, tightest and most soulful opening sets the club has seen in some time, Tank and the Bangas took the stage to amplify the evening by way of a set that shined this group as one of the most dynamic in the land, one that is thoughtfully constructed in personnel and in the styles it fuses to make remarkably creative, meaningful compositions.
And it was just about the same crew that played The Anthem in late February 2020, only a couple weeks before the city would shut down its music venues. As Tank would make her way out to the thrilled cheers of the sold-out crowd last Monday, the rest of the team was already on the stage blending a rhythm: Tia Henderson (vocals), Norman Spence II (synthesizer), Joshua Johnson (drums), Jonathan Lee Johnson (bass), Albert Allenback (alto saxophone, clarinet, flute), Danny Abel (guitar), and Etienne Stoufflet (tenor saxophone).
But this was a crew unquestionably more polished, surer of itself and its purpose, evidenced by a zestful delivery of songs spanning the catalogue, still less than a decade old, but ripe with tracks that burst with vivid sonic personality and portray the collective emotions and perspectives of this diverse group.
Using its one-of-a-kind of instrumentation and led by Tank’s sensational piloting, the group exploded a spectrum of booming, expressive music by way of what felt like modern classics in “Hot Air Balloons,” “Smoke.Netflix.Chill” and “$pace$hip$” from 2019’s Green Balloon and the tempting “Fluff,” cut on the 2020 Friend Goals EP.
Appealing to the ear and to the eye, Tank and company commanded the stage with what appeared to be a slick, subtle coordination — eye contact between the band seemed to help keep it all together as its unpredictable lyricist captivated the audience with her brilliance and alluring character.
“Feels good to be here basking in the light,” she smiled to the audience a few songs into the fast-moving set. “You’re the reason we keep going.”
Playing a venue considerably smaller than the group’s last appearance in DC, 9:30 Club offered a preferred intimacy for presenting some of the group’s newer offerings, including the recent release “Black Folk,” a spoken-word heavy piece led by movingly honest, daring narration by Tank.
“I love black,” she said, drawing whoops from the crowd. “Black look like evolution. … Black smell like soul, taste like good food. … Black sound like 400 years. … Feel like broken homes in Section 8. … Smell like crack and collard greens. Black is spiritual like Sunday morning. … I love me some black.”
Watch the official video for Tank and the Bangas 2022 single “No ID” via the band’s official YouTube channel:
A rich, flowing and sassy new track, “No ID” translated to an all-out dance party from front to back of the house, highlighting this group’s nonchalance in finding perfect grooves while nailing gorgeous harmonies at varying speeds within any jam. Celebrating sounds from disco, hip-hop, R&B and so much more, this group uses passion to create something that is wholly its own and helps it stand out to any listener. In a live performance, Tank and the Bangas is otherworldly to behold.
At 9:30 Club, Tank heaped praise on Cory Henry for the support he provided on the tour, and she thanked friends and family that were in the crowd for what they felt was a bit of a homecoming show with so many loved ones in the room.
“We’re so happy to be here, and we’re so happy you’re here,” she said, glowing and elated toward the end of the set. “All these years, we couldn’t have done it without you. And to show you how much we appreciate you, we’re going to bless you with a new song.”
Watch the official video for Tank and the Bangas 2022 single “Stolen Fruit” via the band’s official YouTube channel:
In performing the freshly released “Stolen Fruit,” the band ushered in ’70s vibes with lush piano over cinematic synthesizer and a nostalgic, ascending chorus: “I reminisce the sunny day / I might try to run away / Like sitting in a sweet escape / I just might fly away.”
It was a night packed with music meant to move the body and nourish the soul, one enhanced by Cory Henry’s persuasive skills and vision, and only further cementing Tank and the Bangas as one of the most ambitious, bold, and entertaining acts on tour today.
Stream Cory Henry’s 2021 album, Best of Me, via Spotify:
Here are images of Tank and the Bangas, as well as the night’s opener, Cory Henry, performing at 9:30 Club on March 21, 2022. All images copyright and courtesy of Casey Vock.
Tank and the Bangas