Magic Giant brings folk instrumentation, pop exuberance to Rickshaw Stop

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It’s not often that the lead singer of an indie-pop band opens a song by scooping up a cello from the side of the stage and playing it like a guitar. LA-based Magic Giant (often stylized as MAGIC GIANT) builds on that weirdness, adding a banjo, harmonica and violin into the mix. It’s all the makings of a Mumford and Sons show, but amazingly, what plays out of the speakers is unambiguously pop

Despite being relatively new to the music scene — the band was formed in 2014 and is just releasing its debut album next month — Magic Giant performs with an ease and a sense of carefreeness that typically only accompany much more experienced bands.

That’s a good thing, because the group played the opening show of its first headlining tour at the Rickshaw Stop last Friday night to a sold-out crowd.

From the first blast of harmonica in “Let It Burn” through the encore rendition of “Set On Fire,” all bodies — audience and band alike — remained permanently in motion, bopping up and down, shimmying, hands waving. It’s hard to resist a set of tunes with clap-able driving kick drum lines, violin melodies for choruses, and the warm strain of lead vocalist Austin Bisnow’s voice as he sings upbeat lyrics such as “If you keep on dancin’ a rough road it smooths it out.”

Aspects of the group’s performance weren’t perfectly executed, from the occasional squawks in Zambricki Li’s frenzied violin solos to the gaps in Zang’s guitar part while he flopped onto his back on the stage floor. But the band members’ enthusiasm kept the crowd jumping, and it was clear during the show that their priority was not to play a polished set but rather to create an atmosphere of inclusivity and optimism.

Bisnow described that dynamic as one of joy: “people just being themselves, just feeling uninhibited, just being the child version of themselves.”

They were pretty successful Friday night as people in the crowd turned to dance wildly with each other throughout the set — whether they entered as friends or strangers seemed to make little difference. Some audience members even continued to dance after the music had stopped, much to the amusement of Bisnow on stage.

“It’s so different performing live than rehearsing a set,” Bisnow commented. “We kind of show up on stage and we’ll just have a back and forth with the audience and they end up being as much of a participant as we are or more.”

The band members sometimes go as far as to include the audience members in their songwriting. While traveling through North America, a conversation with one fan in Aspen about the death of her best friend at the age of 16 influenced the way they wrote their song “Jade.”

“The song was unfinished at the time, but (the fan) came up to us after the show and said, ‘You know when you played that song I felt her presence and it was powerful,’ ” Li recounted. “So when we finished writing the song … we were thinking of this girl’s story at the same time, so it became part of the song. And her friend’s name was Jade.”

The band chose not to tell that story during its set, opting instead to relay cheerful anecdotes about song inspirations from Bisnow’s fantastical dreams, further stressing the band’s heavy emphasis on care-free exuberance. There’s nothing wrong with constructing a space focused on happy vibes, but breaking the relentless drive of peppiness with authentic stories would add depth to the band’s performance.

The jubilance of the crowd, which held up through the encore despite the show pushing past midnight, provides ample evidence that Magic Giant has the je ne sais quoi needed to be successful as a headliner. With more experience, the band members might realize that just because an audience can be entertained by inexhaustible onstage enthusiasm, that doesn’t mean they can’t take a pause in feeding the fire to share the deeper parts of their music.

Olivia Jerram covers music. Contact her at [email protected].

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