They called it the “Gypsy Rag” – an all-consuming number that drew the entire crowd in for keeps. The Last Bison frontman, Ben Hardesty, raised his hands in the air, stepped to the right with a punctuated sway and pause, then repeated it to the left. The audience followed.
“This is how cults are born. Beware,” my friend Amy said as she swayed, her hands held high.
This just shows how fully The Last Bison held its audience on Saturday at U Street Music Hall with just one mid-set sing-along dance song. They’ve done it before, but it’s such a fun and rather haunting and hypnotizing bit that I wanted them to play it twice in one night.
Despite the smaller crowd, they were a band full of energy and enough dynamic performance charisma that it felt as if the venue was filled to the brim. Perhaps that was also a result of a crowded stage with the six family members and old friends that make up The Last Bison. Or it could be the product of the wide array of instruments they played.
On stage was the standard set of drums and guitars, but they also had a tambourine, cello, violin, and bells. It’s hard enough to write and perform songs with just a few instruments, but to add in the rest so seamlessly is something else entirely.
Dubbed as alternative folk rock, The Last Bison’s sound is less crowded than comprehensive. It’s less over-layered than perfectly filled with a diversified range.
Ben Hardesty’s voice has such power, which he tempers with that widely beloved kind of folk-softening allure from which no one can quite turn away. It’s captivating and sometimes gritty, and blended with the full harmony of instruments and backup vocals, each song becomes surprising and unique.
The band hails from Chesapeake, Va., and after it’s sophomore album release late last year – VA (pronounced “Virginia”) – they’re keeping things fresh with their recently released EP, Dorado (March 2015).
It’s composed of four songs that didn’t quite make it onto VA, which was born from a band retreat to a “wigwam” – or a cabin by a swamp near their hometown, apparently – which they temporarily transformed into a recording studio. I can’t begin to imagine what went down in that wigwam that resulted in VA. But I wish I knew. Because I love VA.
From the size of the relatively smaller crowd in Washington, D.C. the other night, they’re still up-and-coming. However, if the fervor with which the present fans cheered, screamed, danced, and did jigs with the extra room each person had was any indication, The Last Bison won’t remain a band with just a cult-like following for long.
Check out “Switzerland” below from their first album, Inheritance (2012), and imagine violinist Teresa Totheroh rocking out in all her petite glory with a head-banging violin solo.
Clearly, this show didn’t sell out only because people don’t yet know how wonderful The Last Bison truly is. Because they’re amazing. You should check them out and learn to love them as much as I do. So that they come back to play here again. Thanks.