Live Music + Gig Reviews

Bison @ Institute For The Blind, Sheffield

25 March 2006

Ever since the Arctic Monkeys arrived to remind us that there’s more to Sheffield than Def Leppard, The Full Monty and underachieving football teams, a steady stream of bands from South Yorkshire have risen to prominence.

None have quite captured the public imagination like the Arctics, but names such as The Long Blondes, Little Man Tate, Milburn, Gledhill and Harrisons have all been bandied about as ‘ones to watch’. And to that list, you can add Bison.

Formed two years ago, the nine-piece collective that make up Bison have been constantly gigging around the north of England, building up a loyal army of fans known as ‘The Herd’. Tonight’s gig doubled as both Bison’s 2nd birthday party and launch party for the band’s debut album Herd Mentality.

As they saunter onto stage, it’s clear that you’ve never seen anything quite like Bison. Clad in bright orange capes, masks and, um, y-fronts, it would be easy to dismiss them as a joke band. Yet, when they kick things off with the title track from the album, it’s very plain that this is very far from comedy music,

Bison’s music, which has very little in common with the raw guitar sound that people may associate with ‘New Yorkshire’, is an infectious mix of ska, reggae and funk, and they make good use of their superb brass section. There are big nods to Madness (especially in the One Step Beyond aping introduction to The Abonimator) and another thing that they share with Suggs and the boys is a determination for their audience to enjoy themselves.

There wasn’t one corner of the Institute For The Blind that was standing still, with Bison disciples dancing on tables, waving their hands in the air and singing along to every word of every song. Lead singer Jim Baxter threw himself into the performance with gusto, while one Bison found himself crowd-surfing at one point.

The sense of fun was infectious, yet Bison are not just a party band. Their songs are well crafted and thoughtfully written – HSB Don’t C concerns itself lyrically with a dead-end 9 To 5 job, which is the sort of topic that’s done so well for Hard-Fi over the last few months. The touching You Are My Smile is another highlight, but the frantic skank of Sponk (winner of BBC South Yorkshire’s Raw Talent contest) was superb, provoking mass cries of “moooo!” throughout.

An anthemic, singalong version of Gimme Some rounded off proceedings, and there was a definite feeling in the air that Bison may not remain a cult band for much longer if they keep playing gigs as good as this. Their website advises us to “hail the Bison” – in a few months time, we could all be doing just that.

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Bison @ Institute For The Blind, Sheffield