The Rookies take a look back on the enduring legacy of their 400-night residency at The Rooks Return

Last month, The Rookies performed their 400th show at legendary Melbourne venue The Rooks Return, so we caught up with the band for a look back at their enduring residency.

It’s an impressive feat no matter the artist, but it remains doubly applaudable given the Brunswick-born band’s humble origins, and their commitment to a genre that’s far too often overlooked. What began as jazzy background noise in the dimly lit corners of The Rooks Return has since bloomed into an enduring residency; weekly appointment viewing for Melbournians and starry musical guests alike.   

In a way, The Rookies’ Wednesday night residency is an exercise in time travel. Patrons enter a venue reminiscent of a bygone speakeasy, and enjoy tunes that might’ve emanated from the gramophones of an old-school bar. While there’s a timeworn quality that’s certainly drawn upon for their residency, The Rookies are backward-looking, with a live performance energy and crowd atmosphere equally suited to a modern club scene. 

This blend of old and new  — described as “jazz, but not as you know it” — is what’s made The Rookies’ shows so unmissable, sustaining their residency some ten years since their debut Rooks Return set in 2014. “We were already mates,” the band told Happy Mag of their early days. “We had been playing in some other projects around town but were looking for somewhere to play tunes together in exchange for a bit of cash, some beers, and a friendly bar that would treat us like family. We feel we found the perfect match in The Rooks Return.”

Any attendee will tell you that these shows are a cooperative enterprise, not least because of the orchestral effort required of the band’s jazz roots. Led by alto saxophonist Greg Sher alongside pianist Joel Trigg, drummer Chris Cameron, double bassist Oscar Neyland and Tom Sly on the trumpet, the quintet demand collective attention by mere composition alone. 

Credit: Press

That energy almost always extends to their crowds, who revel in the improvisation so inherent to The Rookies’ ever-changing setlist. So infectious is their brotherhood that patrons might leave The Rooks Return arm-in-arm, carried on the spontaneity of their late-night, midweek shenanigans. This atmosphere is intentional on the band’s part, given their ultimate goal to “play the music we like and connect with whoever shows up every Wednesday,” they said. “To make sure that everyone in the room feels like they’re part of the family.”

Credit: Press

It’s the same familial grace that has extended to the band’s list of guest performers and starry attendees. Across their 400-night stint, The Rookies have welcomed to the stage the likes of Midlife guitarist Adam Halliwell, Austrian band Heinrich von Kalnein, and saxophonist Julien Wilson, alongside longtime collaborators like The Cat Empire’s Ollie McGill and Harry James Angus, and Ben Gillespie of The Hoodangers. On occasion, fellow artists have also populated the crowd — including members of Michael Bublé’s band — but it’s the community itself that the band considers the most special guest. 

Credit: Press

We’ve been so fortunate to be a part of this bigger, wider community of people right around the world who love and play this music,” the band said. “The best guests though have honestly been the people from our community that we know and love.

Group together a bunch of neighbours against the backdrop of an iconic venue and clamorous setlist and chaos rightfully ensues. The Rookies have borne witness to countless crowd surfers, shoulder-to-shoulder mosh pits and ear-splitting chants, and they wouldn’t have it any other way. “Without going into enough detail to get the place shut down, it’s common that the audience is stacked somehow up the back walls, onto the bar, even stuffed into the little gap between double bass and keyboard, and Greg often ends up playing sax from the bar itself,” the band recalls. 

Credit: Press

We’ve had singalongs, mosh pits to swing tunes, someone literally caught fire (someone else put them out), people crying as we chant “love is everywhere”, we have (hopefully) incited a couple riots… There is always something new, but it’s consistently weird and wonderful.”

What all of this culminates in, The Rookies explain, is a band born from three core principles, each of which have ensured their longevity. The community of both fellow artists and weekly attendees is credited as “the reason the band exists at all.” The Rookies recall guests who met at their gig and later got married and had children, a testament to the communal spirit that has defined each of the band’s shows since 2014. 

Credit: Press

Equally as integral to The Rookies is the bar they call home. “The bar itself has always made us feel like family, [and] we really mean it,” they said. “This sort of support means that we don’t turn up each week wondering what mood the manager will be in, what hoops we will need to jump. We turn up, give the staff a hug and get to it, never doubting that they have our backs.” Finally — and perhaps most touchingly — the friendship between the bandmates themselves has week in and week out, underpinned each and every one of their shows. 

We were good mates at the start but brothers now, we’ve just ticked off 400 gigs at Rooks alone, and estimated that we’re probably around the 1000 mark all up,” they said. “That kind of kinship adds up and can’t be bought or studied.” The Rookies look back on their now quatercentenary effort with the kind of nostalgia befitting of a found brotherhood. “It’s been an absolute blessing to share nine years of personal growth with the others in the band, this group is something that has shaped all of our lives in ways we never expected.” 

Credit: Press

In celebration of their 400th show last week, The Rookies performed their new single On The Shoulders Of Giants. The sonic homage to those that came before them — and their visions of the future — marks the second single to be lifted from their upcoming album Feed The Fire. The band’s fourth studio effort is set for release on March 22, and you can preorder it here.  

Rooks Return — Wednesdays — Free Entry: 

Set 1 – 8:30 – 9:30 pm.

Set 2 – 10:00 – 11:00 pm.