Saturday night's show at The NorVa – with The Last Bison and Kishi Bashi sharing the stage before a packed house – was instantly memorable for all the right reasons. Here were two local acts, both beginning to develop national fan bases, who provided a reminder of everything that live music is supposed to be.
The two acts toured together this summer, with The Last Bison opening shows. But on their home turf, The Last Bison remains the bigger draw, so Kishi Bashi opened on Saturday. He played much of the show as a soloist, using foot pedals to create the sensation of swirling strings via tape loops. Midway through his set, he grinned as he invited "some anonymous friends" to join him on stage. The seven members of The Last Bison emerged from the wings, all wearing facemasks in a playful (but futile) attempt to hide their identities.
After watching Kishi Bashi’s dynamic headlining show at The NorVa earlier this summer, I didn’t think he could be any more animated. But during Saturday night’s performance of “Bright Whites,” feeding off the energy of the masked marvels behind him, he took it to another level entirely, launching himself each time he sang out “If the stars were all aligned we could have solved the mystery.” If he becomes any more animated, he would turn into Bugs
After the other musicians retreated from the stage, he finished his set as he began it – by himself. He finished his hourlong set on a high note, with spirited versions of "It All Began With a Burst" and the lovely "Manchester."
The Last Bison, clad in their trademark turn-of-the-century frontier attire, played on a rustic stage set-up. The backdrop was a 20-foot tall American flag, with the state of Virginia replacing the stars in the field of blue. Lanterns were scattered about the set, and two replica Civil War cannons sat on either side of the stage front.
After fiddler Teresa Tetheroh – a pixie who literally did not stop smiling for the entire show – warmed the crowd up with a quick stanza of "America the Beautiful," the seven-piece "mountaintop chamber music" ensemble clambered out and jumped right into "Setting Our Tables," with front man Benjamin Hardesty first pounding on a drum and then picking up his guitar.
Each member of the band projected his or her own energy. Cellist Amos Housworth's was positioned next to Tetheroh, his stoic demeanor in contrast to her bubbly enthusiasm. Andrew Benfante played organ and occasionally hopped to the center of the stage to gambol barefoot while supplying a beat on the big drum. His brother Jay played various percussion instruments throughout the night and was also tasked with having Ben Hardesty's back any time he broke a drumstick or a guitar string in mid-song. Annah Hardesty added elegant touches on the bells and xylophone and provided sharp backing vocals behind her brother. Dan Hardesty – father of Ben and Annah, and the only band member over the age of 21 – helped anchor the sound on banjo, mandolin and acoustic guitar.
The giddy crowd happily sang along with The Last Bison, particularly on the local FM radio hit "Switzerland." Near the end of the set, Ben Hardesty scrambled down into the crowd to "gypsy dance" with the delighted fans.
The Last Bison played for about 80 minutes, then returned to the stage for a two-song encore, with the two cannons blasting confetti over the audience.
Afterward, Kishi Bashi took up a location in the back corner of the hall and signed autographs for an hour. Meanwhile, the members of The Last Bison emerged from backstage to mingle with friends – a reminder, as if we needed one, that these are local kids who are making such mature and exceptional music.