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Giant Rooks — Intimate and Energetic Charisma, live at Underground Arts

The lights go down at Underground Arts in Philadelphia. The audience immediately stops singing along to the pre-show playlist. It’s the first time the venue has lacked energy since the doors opened. Singing and dancing along to every song, from Noah Kahan’s Stick Season to boygenius’ Satanist, the fans eagerly awaiting Giant Rooks have already created a party-like, energetic atmosphere, talking and laughing amongst themselves. But everything stops when the lights go down, eliciting cheers from all sides.


The moment all five members of Giant Rooks step out, the buzzing energy shifts into something more intense. It’s almost like the air changes. The audience screams so loudly my ears immediately start ringing (maybe it’s time to invest in some concert earplugs).


The Berlin-based band took the stage on April 13 for the North American leg of their How Have You Been? tour, captivating the audience with their insanely high energy, dynamically entertaining, and unique and multifaceted take on the indie and alternative rock genres. It was, to put it simply, an insane experience.


The band — made up of lead singer and guitarist Fred Rabe, guitarist Finn Schwieters, bassist Luca Göttner, pianist Jonathan Wischniowski, and drummer Finn Thomas — started their career by performing anywhere and everywhere they could, playing upwards of 500 shows before releasing their first EP. While it makes sense that Giant Rooks would thrive onstage as a headliner, even I, who had seen them as an opener, was unprepared for how effortlessly and wholly they commanded the stage and not only fed off of the energy of the crowd but took it to a whole new level. Though I may be biased because I love this band, this concert experience and the energy flowing from the band to the crowd and vice versa was unlike anything I’ve ever seen.


Opener Friedberg — a London-based, all-female four-piece —puts on a loud and energetic performance to warm the crowd up, not that they need to. Though they have yet to release an album, the band enthrals the audience with their fast-paced, cowbell and percussion-heavy electro-pop, post-punk rock anthems, including their two newest releases, My Best Friend and Hello. Their closing song, Midi 8, has audience members screaming the simple words and jumping up and down, setting the tone for a dynamic and engaging show.


Preceded by a slow, dreamy piano interlude that transitions seamlessly into the opening song, Giant Rooks takes the stage and hit the ground running, elevating the crowd’s excited energy to the next level. A couple of fans passed out a fan project to everybody in line before doors opening: pieces of paper with the band members’ names on them. Almost everybody in the 650-capacity venue holds their signs high during the opening song, For You, as Rabe sings, “If the sky is ablaze, gods pray for rain, but I’m gonna hold up a sign with your name,” eliciting wide smiles and blown kisses from the band members after the song ends.


The band plays a couple of songs from their two EPs and their first album, but most of the songs on the setlist are off their newest album, How Have You Been?‘. The audience is all in from the get-go, singing along to Göttner’s plucky and funky bass lines in Heat Up and New Estate and Wischniowski’s synthy piano in Pink Skies. The audience screams all the words so loudly that at times, I can’t even hear Rabe’s voice over it all.


Speaking of Rabe, it’s difficult to describe the Giant Rooks frontman’s stage presence; let’s just say, whatever the “it factor” is, he has it. He’s built for performing. From the moment the band takes the stage, you’re drawn to him. Dynamic, energetic, and incredibly charming, Rabe is somehow everywhere all at once, jumping up and down, dancing, spinning, playing guitar and even drums at times, engaging up close with the audience, and hyping up his bandmates, making you wonder how in the world he has the physical capability to perform multiple times a week. Rabe’s energy is beyond infectious, and his all-encompassing passion for what he does is apparent with every single note he sings. 


Sometimes with bands, certain members can get lost in the shadows, but that’s definitely not the case with Giant Rooks. All five band members get their own moments: a few bass solos for Göttner, multiple electric guitar solos for Schwieters, a synthy keyboard moment and even a fun tambourine interlude for Wischniowski where he runs up to the front of the stage, and several notable drum solos for Thomas. The audience is more than eager to scream at the top of their lungs for every one of them. 


Gifts are a huge part of the Giant Rooks fandom, I would argue more so than others. At every show during Pink Skies, when Rabe sings, “Pine trees, sunflowers make me think of you,” fans throw sunflowers onto the stage, and this time, in addition to that, handmade crocheted hats with sunflowers on them are given to the band. Rabe and Göttner put them on, profusely thanking the fans. These aren’t the only gifts given during the duration of the show; Rabe also receives and dons green heart glasses during Somebody Like You, as well as a Philadelphia Nike hat that he puts on and then gives to Schwieters during the second to last song of the show, Wild Stare. 


The entire band oozes humility and gratefulness; they thank the audience profusely after every song, and they have this constant aura of amazement and disbelief, like they’re still struggling to comprehend that they’re nearly 4000 miles from home and all these people know all the words to their songs. It’s evident how much they love what they do and how endlessly grateful they are to have so many dedicated people supporting them, many of whom travelled from out of state and camped for hours to attend the show, the earliest fans arriving at 2 am the day before, a full 17 hours before doors opened. Not bad at all for a band so far from home.


The personal standout moment of the show takes place in the middle, with What I Know Is All Quicksand, a track from the band’s first album, Rookery. The song starts off high energy, with the audience screaming the words at the top of their lungs. Towards the end of the bridge, the music comes to a halt, allowing Rabe’s vocals to be the sole star of the show. As he sings, “I don’t need reasons to be alone,” he steps away from the microphone and belts his heart out, improvising the end of the bridge as the audience and the bandstand still in complete silence. Thanks to the small venue, every person in the crowd can hear his powerful, slightly gritty voice as it is, which is a guttingly intimate and deeply touching moment to witness. When the entire band joins back in and the last chorus is sung, the audience cheers enthusiastically long after the song is over. This moment left me completely speechless; I still get shivers when I think about it.


The show isn’t without its dance-your-heart-out moments. At the end of Morning Blue, the band gets everyone in the audience moving and excited before playing a disco interlude and outro, complete with synthy, poppy piano, electronic effects, and flashing blue and white lights. This creative musical moment gets everyone in the crowd screaming and jumping up and down, and for the duration of the song, it feels like a club, not a concert. 


Giant Rooks ends the show with Watershed, a song that’s easy to dance and scream to, and that’s exactly what everyone does. Rabe leads the audience in the countdown to the chorus, screaming, “Everybody jump!” I don’t think I’ve ever jumped harder. As the song and the concert come to an end, the band slows down, with just Schwieters and Göttner singing soft background vocals and Rabe playing the outro slowly on the acoustic guitar to end the night. 


After taking their final bows, the band stays on stage for a little while to wave to everyone, handing out guitar picks, throwing drumsticks to people in the crowd, and accepting more handmade gifts. Rabe even pauses to draw a tattoo for a fan, something he’s done quite a few times on this tour. 


Walking out of that concert felt like coming down from a two-hour-long adrenaline high; there was something in the air that night, and I won’t ever forget the insane energy from both Giant Rooks onstage and the audience.


Giant Rooks is a band that is made for performing live; they thrive onstage. This concert was, without a doubt, one to remember. Their presence is larger than life, and it is so apparent how much they rely on, respect, and love each other, as well as how grateful they are for every person in the audience. Rabe especially is an incredibly dynamic, charming, and entertaining force onstage; his presence demands attention. This band is built for performing on massive stages and doing incredible things. I can’t wait to watch them grow bigger and bigger, not only in Germany but internationally as well.


Make sure to catch Giant Rooks on the How Have You Been? Summer encore in Europe, or on tour with Louis Tomlinson in Latin America. Listen to their discography here.


 
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