Tank & the Bangas create a pure and organic energy that you don’t come down from.
(Photo: Peter Hutchins)
Roseland Theater, Portland, OR
The New Orleans-centric tour Head Bangas was never going to be anything other than a blowout. Between the outrageous spectacle of Big Freedia and her backup dancers/twerkers and the vibrant energy of Tank & the Bangas, you’d have to be a sociopath to spend an evening around that music and not want to shake your ass. It’s almost as though both acts were bred in a lab to make you want to do it.
Big Freedia’s live show is purely id-driven. Backed by New Orleans six-piece Naughty Professor (who opened), three dancers and a backup singer, you could be forgiven for wishing she’d been the show’s headliner; her energy is the sweetest sugar rush imaginable. Blasting through her hits “Azz Everywhere,” “Gin in My System,” and even Drake’s Freedia-featuring “Nice For What,” there was scarcely a moment that didn’t feel like an all-synapses experience, from the call-and-response of “I’ve got that gin in my system” with “Somebody’s gonna be my victim” to her cover of Beyonce’s “Formation” to one of her dancers hanging off the balcony of the Roseland and twerking–not to mention bringing audience members into a twerking contest.
She gave us one moment of naked humanity when she explained the significance of her being in Portland. “It took me a long time to come back here,” explaining that she was in town when her mother, Vera Ross, passed away in 2014. Big Freedia closed with a fiery rendition of “I Heard,” as always declaring herself “dick eater, queen diva, and late-night creeper,” and as her backup dancers kept dancing even after the entire band – and then Freedia herself – left the stage, it was hard to not sympathize with their desire to keep the show going.
After a break, three people in panda costumes wandered onstage. In profile, the massive hair of Tank & the Bangas leader Tarriona “Tank” Ball was visible ballooning under her panda head, and as she and her backup singers pulled their masks off, the crowd erupted. For the first half of the set, it felt as though the show would be a continuation of the high octane performance before it. She stalked the stage with a rap god’s bravado, whipping the crowd into a frenzy. By the time she was done covering Kendrick Lamar’s “Untitled 07” to remind us about all of the things that “won’t get you high as this” (love, drugs, chains, juice, among other things), the show’s energy shifted. The first half was nothing more than a front, a way of getting people hooked on Tank before reminding us what she’s about.
Tank & the Bangas can feel like slam poetry with an 8-piece backing band. She gives long, spoken word monologues in song, like the most legit positive affirmation tape you’ve ever heard. While a talented rapper, she’s most compelling when she slows down and delivers gentle sermons about love and fear, as anyone who heard 2013’s Think Tank can attest. In lesser hands, this could fail as badly as a jazz band accompanying a shitty LiveJournal poem. But for Tank, a song about the gut feelings of fear and excitement inherent in love and roller coasters feels revelatory. Long stretches of musical interlude gave her a chance to hang back, overtaken by the energy of her remarkable band, and while this could have been boring, the look of pure joy and excitement on her face and in her eyes was hard to look away from.
These bands create an energy level that never became overbearing. This is no sugar rush and accompanying crash. Big Freedia and especially Tank & the Bangas create a pure and organic energy that you don’t come down from; they make you aspire to be like Freedia’s dancers, determined to keep dancing after the music is gone, holding on to that energy for as long as possible.