Teeks, Emily King, and Tank and the Bangas performed together in a three-part outdoor event for Auckland Arts Festival. Madeleine Chapman was there.
Tank and the Bangas couldn’t hear themselves.
It was a disappointing start to the much anticipated final act of an otherwise flawless three-part event.
I had seriously considered not even going after driving up from Wellington that morning but then I considered how many times I’d listened to Emily King’s album The Switch and decided I could sleep during the act breaks.
The Festival Playground, a specially built venue at Silo Park in Wynyard Quarter, is very, very good. On arrival, I expected to have to show a ticket before being let in but was instead ushered through into the courtyard where tickets, food, and drink could be purchased. The stage itself, surrounded by canvas fencing, could be easily heard from the public eating area. I wondered how many people wandered by for a look and ended up staying for a free, no visuals concert with their dinner.
Once inside, I realised the “3 hour standing event” description was unfortunately accurate. There was no seating but a lot of grass to lounge on if you planned well enough to take a blanket. I did not.
First on the bill was Teeks. Scheduled perfectly for the last hours of sun, Teeks’s crooning and sense of travelling back in time set the relaxed tone early on. That man can sing. With most attendees seated on blankets enjoying a picnic, Teeks sang mostly for the modest standing crowd in front of the stage. But even with a smaller crowd, his debut single “If Only” produced some impressive singing from his vocal following. With only a 30 minute act, I wondered if maybe the other two, Emily King and Tank and the Bangas, would perform for over an hour each.
When Emily King sauntered onto the stage 15 minutes later in all white, she got the cheers of a headliner. For me, at least, she was the headliner. The Switch, her second album but first in seven years, is an absolute gem of a record. I first encountered it after YouTube recommended her “BYIMM” music video starring Titus Burgess. I guess that’s what happens when you watch the same Titus scene from Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt a thousand times.
King is a performer. Even with just herself and J Most on guitar and vocals, she commanded the stage. Every once in a while, she’d stop singing for a bit to dance alone on stage and the crowd were 100% there for it. Despite having good range and seemingly a lot of power in her voice, King sang almost too quietly. Whether it was the mic or a conscious decision from her, being at the back meant I had to concentrate to hear her sometimes.
Throughout King’s 45-minute set, more people joined the standing crowd so that when she sang “BYIMM”, a bonus track on the album, the lyrics prompted audible laughter. With the sun almost set and the crew setting up for Tank and the Bangas, I wandered out to the precinct for some food. 20 minutes later I wandered back in and nothing was happening so I wandered out again. 20 minutes after that I wandered back in and there was still no one on stage. Emily King, however, was signing copies of her album near the entrance.
50 minutes after King’s set ended, Tank and the Bangas took the stage. At the end of a summer of festivals where acts sometimes start mere seconds after each other, a 50-minute wait felt like forever.
Then the band started and couldn’t hear themselves.
It was halfway through their first song. Tarriona “Tank” Ball, the New Orleans group’s lead singer, had taken the stage after an extended instrumental intro that included the saxophone player repeatedly yelling and gesturing to the sound desk. One minute into her first verse and Tank shut it down. “Sorry, we need to get this right,” she said, as the instruments faded out and the sax man walked over to the sound engineers to discuss the issue.
While we all waited, wondering if this meant fewer songs would be performed, Tank announced that she would sing a more acoustic song while they sorted out the sound behind her. The song was ‘Rollercoasters’, a tribute to a theme park in New Orleans that never reopened after Hurricane Katrina. It feels diminishing to even call ‘Rollercoasters’ a song but I suppose there’s no other word. In reality, it began as a poem, or recital, or sermon (you choose), before becoming a ballad that showcased the sheer power of Tank’s voice. What followed was a solid six minutes of singing, performing, complete changes in tempo, seemingly improvised riffs, but always the sense that the band knew exactly what they were doing. It was incredible.
By the end of the night, I counted three people who had held out and remained seated on the grass, but everyone else was up and dancing. On our way out of the Festival Playground, I experienced the nightmarish thought that I was trapped in a flash mob but everyone was just feeling so good they kept dancing all the way out of the precinct. It’s almost impossible to properly describe the sound of Tank and the Bangas but their NPR Tiny Desk concert is a pretty good indication. They gained at least one new fan that night.
$55 for a general admission ticket made Sunday night’s event about the best value for money you’re likely to find in live music. If the rest of the outdoor events at the Festival Playground are even half as good as Sunday night’s, the Arts Festival will be a success.
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