Like a rich, hearty bowl of authentic gumbo, watching Tank and the Bangas perform live will fill you up and warm your soul. Along with openers Sweet Crude, the New Orleans-based band served all the sounds and flavours of Louisiana to an enthusiastic Toronto crowd, and all who came left more than satisfied.
Sweet Crude set the bar high at the top of the night. Their drum-driven, French-infused sound was a hit with the audience; they stirred souls with their mighty vocals and shook the walls with big, robust percussion. With up to four of the six performers playing drums at once, each song in Crude's set had a dizzying, layered rhythm. The audience couldn't keep still.
Crude singer Alexis Marceaux channelled Sheila E., belting sweet but powerful vocals and never missing a beat on her drum kit. "One in the Hand" was an especially lively performance, "COGO" had a hint of '70s disco glam, and "On Est Pares" left the crowd buzzing with excitement. It was a high-energy finish and a perfect segue to the main event.
Though minor sound issues prevailed throughout their set (the bandmates couldn't hear themselves or each other, and almost every song was punctuated with pleas to adjust their mics or monitors), Tank and the Bangas held Toronto in their strong, tight grip from intro to encore. Part singer, part poet and part thespian, front-woman Tarriona "Tank" Ball commanded the stage and performed with her whole being — her voice, her eyes and her regal pouf of hair all told a story.
Right away, the band turned Adelaide Hall into a church revival with their strong voices and upbeat, in-your-face funk. Two songs into the performance, a glistening Tank drawled a request to a fan in the front row: "Plug that fan in for me. Point it at me, make sure that thang is on." Clearly, things were about to heat up.
With a charming mixture of humour, sweetness and passion, the band took the crowd on a journey through a range of emotions and sounds. Playful and creative live arrangements made much of the material from their 2013 album Think Tank sound fresh and new. Particularly memorable songs of the night included "Quick" (trap-infused with a heavy dollop of funk); "Oh Heart" (cutesy and minimalist with a rich, soulful finish); and "Human" (poignant and sober but with a jazzy, more upbeat feel that completely strayed from the album version). They deftly wove quick covers into their set (their punchy, uptempo take on Lianne La Havas's "Wonderful" was the most fun), and the chemistry between bandmates was contagious. It was obvious that they were enjoying themselves, and that energy bled right into the crowd.
By the end of the night, the Bangas had every person in the room swag-surfing in tandem, as if possessed. After engaging the room in a sweaty, fist-pumping sing-along with "The Bradys," they slowed down the pace of the music and took a moment to marvel at the crowd, each person waving their smartphone lights in appreciation as Tank and formidable vocalist Angelika "Jelly" Joseph hummed sweet, luscious harmonies as a gesture of gratitude. They seemed truly humbled by the warm reception at their first Toronto show. "I see God," Tank sang, the reflection of the lights twinkling in her eyes. Her sincerity tugged at the heartstrings. It would have been a sweet way to end things. But the people wanted more.
The Bangas bid their farewells and skipped off the stage, and of course, their adoring fans demanded an encore. After a few minutes of rowdy chanting ("Tank! Tank! Tank!"), the band re-emerged and started playing the soft, twinkling chords to SWV's classic "Rain." Just as the crowd prepared for a soothing serenade, the band transitioned into Childish Gambino's "Redbone" and sent the venue into an absolute frenzy. The band's soulful cover of Gambino's track was a spectacular finish to the show and left Toronto dizzy with excitement.
As the last chords faded and the audience roared with delight, Tank and the Bangas blew kisses, waved and saluted their guests. "Toronto! We're in love with you!" Tank gushed in appreciation.
The feeling was definitely mutual.