by Andi Bricklin
Last Saturday night The Last Bison rolled into Philly hauling a slew of string and percussion instruments, and boy was I glad that I made a table reservation, because by the time Norwegian songstress (and monster finger picker) Monica Heldal took the stage it was standing room only.
Heldal sat on a stool, donning a knit hat and a flannel shirt, accompanied by fellow Norwegian musician Oyvind Blom. Heldal is in the US promoting her album, The Boy From the North, released here last month. Her sweet voice is reminiscent of Suzanna Hoffs, and when you add to that her precise finger picking style and hometown folk roots, it’s a mesmerizing combination.
Behind Heldal, the stage was loaded with instruments, so many that I wasn’t sure they were going to be able to fit six band members on the stage, but when The Last Bison came out and took their places, everything fit like the final pieces to a puzzle. Although I felt that The Last Bison could have performed downstairs, we were all quite comfortable in the intimate setting upstairs. Even before the band went on there was a feeling of welcome, not like we were at a venue watching a band, but kind of like we were at home with The Last Bison and a part of the family.
I expected great musicianship, I expected great songs, what I did NOT expect was the amount of energy that lead singer Ben Hardesty put out. Looking good in his sport coat and coiffed hair, it didn’t take Hardesty long into the set before the coat was gone, hair was a mess, shirt tail became untucked and he was dripping with sweat. By the way, if you’re the lead singer and you don’t look like that at the end of a show, you’re doing it wrong.
Hardesty was banging on drums, breaking sticks, rocking the guitar, dancing with the crowd and singing his heart out. It’s an energy that is difficult to capture on a recording, and I hope that a live album might be in the works for the future. The Last Bison performed for almost 90 minutes and the crowd loved every single one of those minutes. I can’t remember the last time I saw an audience so invested in a band’s performance, these were true fans and it was like a breath of fresh air. Astounding performance and a must for every music fan in Philly when they return!