At Tank and the Bangas’ March 19 performance at Revolution Hall, the jazz funk sound with a hip-hop flair was expectedly excellent. However, the crowd and atmosphere are what made the show stand out, proving that live music is back and better than ever.
As concertgoers started filling the sold-out show, the energy was palpable. Portland-born Lo Steele opened with R&B vocals over boogie tracks. The artist joked that she was just there to see Tank and the Bangas for free. A few songs in, the crowd endearingly had to ask for her name, to which she graciously obliged.
Afterwards, to my left an audience member shouted, “And your mom’s here too!” Lo Steele is the daughter of LaRhonda Steele, an Oregon Music Hall of Fame inductee commonly referred to as the “First Lady of Portland Blues.” Someone at the barricade offered their spot to her after finding out she was the opener’s mother, a kind gesture emblematic of one of the most courteous concert audiences I have ever seen.
Witty lines such as “FAFSA got me bent” and “read a book instead of scrolling on my phone I can be a happy girl” followed by flawlessly executed runs left the audience swooning for Lo Steele. Most of the songs from the set will be included on her forthcoming album this summer.
My favorite moment from the supporting act, however, was during a cover of a song by the late Bobby Caldwell. Lo Steele welcomed her mother on stage and LaRhonda Steele wowed listeners with her full, mature voice. The mother and daughter duo’s warmth spread across the stage and the crowd reacted to each of the mother’s notes with increasingly loud cheers.
Following Lo Steele, techs changed the hookups and set up dangling white clouds and several glowing red balls while the audience patiently waited 45 minutes for the main act. The crowd was chill, enjoying the energy and being courteous of each other’s space.
Band members took the stage and functioned as a strong, united ensemble; this prepared the perfect background for lead vocalist Tarriona “Tank” Ball to run in from off stage. Tank came in hot, moving so fast my camera could barely keep up and piquing interest with her signature round voice with nasally accents.
The Grammy-nominated band began cycling through tracks from “Red Balloon,” the 2022 album they are touring. Having been a fan of the band since their breakthrough win of NPR’s 2017 Tiny Music Desk Concert contest, the experience was surreal. They have grown a lot since their big break, something Tank humorously pointed to on stage: “Tank and the Bangas have so many balloons.” Their 2019 album is named “Green Balloon.”
Tank and the Bangas offer something very fresh, by making jazz music accessible and impactful. You do not need to be a music theory geek to love their sound, though I have heard their tracks are a favorite for those who want to wade deep into the musical weeds. The show embraced this energy, mixing the improvisation and scatting of jazz with the high energy and audience chanting of hip-hop.
Highlights from the show include audience members hitting every ad lib in “Where Do We All Go,” a mega collaboration between the band, Laleh Hathaway and Jacob Collier, the audience echoing Tank’s charisma and playful vocal refrains throughout the night and Tank’s own lyrical humor. This wit shines through in lines such as “F*ck it, I’m moving at 18” and “We’re the freaks we’re the freaks” which inspired hearty chuckles from the venue.
The most tender moment was a heartfelt performance of their song “Stolen Fruit,” which Tank mentioned was one of her favorites from that album. It condensed the energy of the room into a quiet, but focused intention. This song expertly transitioned into “Communion in My Cup” which showcased a deep rumble of the bass guitar, which can only be experienced in person, contrasted with a light tapping of the keys at the end of the solo.
From a quirky vibrato scream, utterly relatable lines such as “I’m coming up, I’m fucking up. That’s the human in me” and an audience kind enough to tap on your shoulder to let you know they are trapped in the corner, this was a restorative experience. The only way this show could have been better, would be if Big Frieda herself showed up for her feature on “Big.”
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