I intentionally did not listen to a note of The Last Bison before walking in the doors of the Rock and Roll Hotel last Sunday evening; I wanted to enter with no expectations. I wanted to be surprised. After just one quarter of one song, I was sufficiently surprised and speechless.
The seven members of TLB walked onto the stage looking ready to spin a yarn or two; they appeared as if they just came in off the porch in rural America where they had been perfecting their stories for years. Turns out, that isn’t too far from the truth. At the conclusion of their opening song, frontman Ben Hardesty let the crowd know that “we are from far away … Virgina.”
Last Bison has that modern orchestral folk sound and lyrics that could read like a book. Loud tom and bass drum will keep you attentive. Strings. Mandolin. Banjo. Xylophone. But most of all, Hardesty’s strong lead vocals and the band’s amazing talent and ability to harmonize along with him. If The Decemberists and Mumford and Sons birthed a band … it would be The Last Bison. (Interesting side note…Papa Hardesty and Ben’s sister, Annah, are also in the band).
Throughout the set the crowd’s excitement continued to grow. Each song elicited raucous cheers and at least four different pairs around me whispered to one another “They are good.” After the show, a guy in the bar upstairs proclaimed, “They were so fuckin’ awesome. I knew it was gonna be good because I saw their YouTube videos. But WOW.” Near the end of the show, Hardesty let the crowd know how hard they had been playing, announcing that he had only one guitar left for the last two songs. He then asked the crowd to join the performance by singing “hep like the gypsies would.” The crowd obliged. They ended the set with “Distance,” a song from their newly released EP Inheritance.
In the end I both regret and love my initial decision to go into the show blind. I wish I had been listening to The Last Bison for years. But at the same time, the absolute joy and pleasant surprise of hearing the band for the first time… and loving them…was well worth the wait.