Material: The Last Bison offer a completely dynamic take on a singalong folk sound, filtered through an Arcade Fire-like approach, i.e., often featuring several members contributing percussion at the same time. The vocals range from high-pitched ethereal to being belted out, but the insistent stop- starts and percussive interludes always bring the band back to earth from their occasional forays into orchestral beauty. The vast array of folk-based instrumentation keeps every song interesting, and the set even included some classic rock references, “Reeling In The Years” and “Magic Carpet Ride.”
Musicianship: The band uses guitars, mandolin, banjo, cello, electric bass, violin, orchestra bells, various keyboards, drums and percussion. It was fascinating to see almost every member of the band play several instruments, and all were played impeccably. Drummer Solomon kept clockwork time using all parts of his kit—from cymbals to the rims— and all players laid back perfect rhythm for the others to solo over. The secret weapon was violinist Totheroh, who played as much as danced out her parts with a ballet-like grace. And just when you thought it couldn’t get more interesting, Housworth would add xylophone bells.
Performance: What catapults this band into a true phenomenon is their live performance. From the very first beat, the entire band was moving, and Hardesty had the audience clapping along by the third song. He invited the audience to essentially be part of the Last Bison family, and made audience members feel as if they were partying in a friend’s living room.
The excitement was contagious—one is invited to clap and dance along, and there are enough cues to make singing along a breeze, especially on “Gypsy Rag.” The frequent percussion breakdowns through the set gave an intensely involving tribal feel to the proceedings.
Summary: The Last Bison are an act whose time has arrived. The best elements of the new folk sounds are all here and delivered with expertise, conviction and, best of all, a tangible and infectious excitement. They are a cross between a gang, a gypsy orchestra troupe and a family (which they partially are) and invite listeners to participate in their danceable musical vision. Audience members present at this show will look forward to the band's next local appearance.
The Players: Ben Hardesty, lead vocal, guitar, percussion; Dan Hardesty, vocal, mandolin, banjo, guitar; Annah Housworth, vocal, orchestra bells, harpsichord, percussion; Ames Housworth, electric bass, cello; Andrew Benfante, keyboards, pump organ; Teresa Totheroh, violin; David Solomon, drums.
– David Arnson