by Caleb Calhoun
Photos by Libby Gamble
It’s Sunday evening and I am just getting off work. 10:30am to 7:00pm always feels long, but today, with Tank and The Bangas written on my calendar, underlined in red, circled in purple, and with little stars all around it, time has been moving at the speed of new gun legislation.
I fancy myself a bit of a poet, and no one inspires me more than Tank and The Bangas right now. The opportunity to see them at all is amazing, but to get to see them less than a mile from my place, at the legendary roadhouse that is Grey Eagle Asheville, well I feel like a lucky man.
I wanna check out the opening band, New Orleans cohabitants and longtime Bangas’ friends Sweet Crude, so I arrive there just a little before 8. The line is already stretched around the parking lot and it’s clear that there are quite a few people already inside.
This show sold out quickly, and the buzz leading up to it has been outstanding, still, I didn’t expect it to be this crowded this early. I make my way through the line and up towards the front. I don’t know much about Sweet Crude and I realize, less than halfway through the first song, that I have some research to do when I get home.
Their songs are constantly evolving, drawing on everything from math-rock to pop to funk to straight-ahead rock and roll. All of it is battered in a heavy blend of choreography and deep fried in their cajun, bi-lingual hooks.
A few songs in and frontman Sam Craft yells at the audience, “Tank and The Bangas is the bomb… and we are the fuse.” The crowd, already filled out like a waistband on Thanksgiving is surging and responding beautifully. Asheville knows how to get down, something I find musicians commenting on time after time after time. The Western Carolina music scene really is a special thing to be a part of right now. It’s a golden bubble that is waiting to be burst by tourism and big business and greed and we should all appreciate every second of it’s late-adolescent maturity.
The thing is, and don’t get this twisted, but their movement on stage, their broadway meets dive-bar feel, in some ways reminds me of the David Byrne show last week. I’m not saying this is David Byrne, but the way the choreography feels like a chase, well, it’s reminiscent.
And it’s pretty damn good. Still, this sold out venue is packed with people ready to hear Tank. “Time for a cigarette,” Craft says from the stage as a goodbye, and just like that nearly 400 people evaporate and re-condensate on the patio. It’s an anxious few minutes. Crowded, crowded, crowded and most of us already feeling a little weird.
I’m not sure what to expect. As they launch into the first song it is clear almost immediately that whatever my expectations were, they were not nearly high enough. The first thing that just knocks you back is how heavy they are live. Honestly, for probably the first twenty minutes it’s a straight-up metal show.
This band is pushing limits all over the place and they are unapologetic about it. Get on board or get on out, Tank and The Bangas are doing it their way, all the time, every day.
The band comes out first and brings us in with an introduction before Tank herself and Jelly join them on stage. They push into Levitate, a powerful room-shaker of a song, the audience fully engaged and moving, moving, moving. After Quick they lighten up just a touch with Big Bad Wolf, and with more melody I decide to take a quick break to get my thoughts on paper.
I grab my typewriter and head to the bar, but it’s not working right. I fiddle with it, I dig around under it, I check the springs but nothing. I’m holding the H-Bar up with one hand and typing with the other when my photographer Libby Gamble walks up and hands me a bobby pin.
Why the typewriter people ask me? Because if my mac-book breaks I’m not gonna be able to fix it with a freaking bobby pin.
But I digress. I type away, trying to capture the essence of this evening. In some ways it is a party, in some a protest, and all of it is one hell of a production.
“What brings us together,” Sam Craft of Sweet Crude had told me earlier, “is that we want to make every show a production and to communicate the music visually as best as we can.”
I stash my typewriter and head to the back of the crowd to dance. The heart of the venue was beautiful earlier but at this point in the night I need some room to maneuver around a little.
As the set moves on it becomes clearer and clearer that the sections between the songs are improvised live. Tank is on the level with her crowd and she is playing to them. She isn’t playing to last night’s crowd, or some generic, record-label crowd no, she is connecting with this audience. She is connecting with much of the audience almost one-on-one, making eye contact and telling you in that moment that you are there with her alone, and she is speaking the words your soul wishes it had the courage to speak for itself.
As they near the end of the set they head into a completely spun version of Outkast’s Roses before finishing off with a The Brady’s>Smells Like Teen Spirit. Smells Like Teen Spirit is dark and heavy, and as much of Tank and The Bangas music does, it moves through different tempos, different feelings, different vibes.
After making one of the most covered songs in history their own, after making it feel again after millions of radio plays and hundreds of commercials, they leave the stage to a massive ovation. They encore with the rest of The Brady’s, and leave the crowd satisfied. Not that we wouldn’t have listened to them play all night long, but the truth is, they gave us their all and our bellies are full.
Sort of, except that I have another plan up my sleeve. I kill time on the patio smoking cigs and repeating over and over, “Holy shit, that was an amazing show.” I buy a hat and get it signed by Tank. Then, as it is all winding down, I see my friends talking to The Bangas as they break down.
“You guys wanna come to my place after this and drink a few beers and keep jamming?” I ask them. “It’s only about a mile away.”
To my surprise, they take me up on it, and three hours later I am reading my poetry with The Bangas playing behind me. Talk about real.
I grab drummer Joshua Johnson and ask him a couple of questions. I’m a little star-struck, and perhaps a little faded, and so I ask him sadly basic questions, including, “How would you describe your sound?”
It’s a stupid question, and I usually don’t ask it because stupid questions tend to lead to vanilla answers, but his response takes me back.
“If you have never looked at us as a movie soundtrack,” Johnson explains, “then you should think of us like that. We are the thing that if you turned the picture off and could only hear the sound, you would still understand it.”