Lee Fields & the Expressions @ Chevron Gardens
w/ Tank & the Bangas
Sunday, March 4, 2018
More than 60 years have passed since James Brown toured with his first band The Famous Flames, pushing the boundaries of what a frontman can do. He, alongside a handful of other performers, created the ultimate template of what it means to be a soul performer.
Lee Fields, who played the closing party of Chevron Gardens on Sunday night with his band The Expressions, was born in 1951, just a few shorts years before the man he was nicknamed ‘Lil’ JB’ after started his career. Being a soul performer is no longer a dangerous new art but instead a known quantity with expected moves; the call and response, the spin and point, the pleading on behalf of a left-behind man, the aside to the guitar or sax player. Lee Fields is a master of the form; his voice still sounds wonderful, he is dressed to the nines with a shining blue suit replete with french cuffs and pocket square, he can wail and dance when required. Having released his first single in his teens, Fields is a professional seasoned entertainer here to do a job and the audience was ecstatic to be in his capable hands.
The Expressions began with a short instrumental piece before bass player Jacob Silver performed his hype-man duty welcoming the main man to the stage. Starting with I’m Coming Home Fields pointed at the audience, “I see happy people over here!” and as he worked through the band’s repertoire including such tracks as Work to Do, Specially and Don’t Walk he ensured that applied to most everyone in the audience. After we had been gifted with an encore performance, suit jacket and shirt removed and in place a shiny waistcoat, I heard various audience members around me enthusiastically praising the show and I couldn’t disagree. This was a highly entertaining, musically rich show. Experimental or surprising though – it was not.
Which is why within minutes of Tank & the Bangas taking stage I felt relief at my excitement. One minute singing Anita Baker style, the next rapping in a slightly child-like pitch; theatrical, playful and exuberant it was hard to keep your eyes off Tarriona “Tank” Ball.
Multi-coloured scarf in hand, an outfit as colourful as the woman wearing it and a truly magnificent head of hair, Tank took to the mic and started by declaring herself as Nina Simone, Lena Horne. In other words she is taking the rich history of what has come before her and let it become something new through her and the music she is making. Alongside soul and funk, hip hop and slam poetry (where Tank got her start, the band meeting at an open mic), Tank and the Bangas also claim inspiration from Anjelika “Jelly” Joseph’s invention “Soulful Disney” – how exciting that new forms are being created out of ones so entrenched.
It was the New Orleans band’s first time in Australia and they had a great deal to show us with tracks such as Quick, You So Dumb and Squares exhibiting their very particular mix of styles and bombastic nature. There were moments when the show dipped a little but it never stopped being exciting and often humorous. “In my next life,” Tank mused about the longevity of love, “I may be a wind chime and you might be a toilet bowl seat and how are those things ever going to be together?”
How lucky we were to see on one night both a master of his craft and a group of young experimental upstarts. I hope those brought in by the assured soul showmanship of Lee Fields and the Expressions stuck around to be a little surprised, a little confused, and a little delighted by Tank and the Bangas.
Photos by Cam Campbell