Nastiest, dirtiest, grittiest alternative concert ever. X Ambassadors at Bowery Ballroom this past Friday night. They were preceded by two bands: the first, Gospels, really put the crowd in such a smooth mood. The sound was perfectly dreamy with some Local Natives’ type harmonies. They could’ve connected with the crowd more (hell I didn’t even know what their name was when they left stage), but they’re a baby band with a lot more to grow. The second opener, Parade of Lights, was more like a club dance party illuminated by diagonal white neon lights behind the drum set. Or maybe it was more like a calisthenics class. The singer told us to keep our hands up, and I was worried he’d whip us into shape if we didn’t. Regardless, they really got the crowd moving, especially with their singles “Island” and “Golden”.
X Ambassadors came on really late and gave us a strong set up through the very last song. Surprisingly, they kicked off their show with
the slower, sexier “Down With Me” then “Free & Lonely”. It was clear from the start that lead singer Sam had an embodied hip-hop attitude – some stank face, the lean, and just overall grit. The ladies were swooning over those hips. Fans knew every word the entire night and (shout out to the tall guy behind me) sang exuberantly, on pitch with every microtone and vocal stylization.
X Abassadors somehow managed to play every song in their discography (currently two full EP’s) in one show, which I’ve never seen done before. Casey on keys transitioned between songs with his delicate piano interludes. (Side note: Casey does the Power Stance that puts all others to shame. He’s practically doing deep lunges back there. Kudos to him. He should team up with Parade of Lights for a combined cardio/toning class.) Their slow songs – “Litost” and “Unsteady” really moved the crowd as well, which you wouldn’t expect with their heavy sound. Hearing the band harmonize those opening vocals on “Litost” was beautiful though. One of the standout moments of the night. After crooning the last line of “Unsteady”, Sam just nodded one solid nod as if recognizing the vulnerable position we’d all just emerged from.
Sam pulled out his saxophone a few times to even-heightened female screams. Seriously, if those girls were screaming about his hips before, it got even worse once he was doing those hip gyrations with saxophone in hand. In an interview with Meet The Bands, Sam said they aim to use saxophone as a layering instrument for texture, which worked well for the live show. If you’re wondering how sax fits in with this sound, don’t. Trust me, it works. (Sample “Shining” if you still don’t believe me.)
X Ambassador’s sound is very percussion-centric, so I expected their drummer Adam to be having a field day back there, but he had a straight face the entire time. Didn’t miss a beat – gave a strong pulse – but had the best drummer poker face I’ve ever seen. The guitarist, Noah, on the other hand…he had a worse bass face than Este of HAIM (reference here). Watching them perform live helped me pick out some sounds I’d never quite been able to place while listening to the record like the fact that they used a tinny-sounding mini piano during “Unconsolable”. Or even the guitar parts, which I hadn’t paid too much detailed attention to before; they ranged from the simple riffs as in “Love Songs Drug Songs” to that Stevie Ray Vaughn wammy sound that gives the music a warbling vibe as in “Brother” – the invincible song that ended their show before encore.
“JA HUNGRY?” Sam growled, back again for the last two songs after encore. They then launched into a taste of Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage”, which smoothly transitioned into “Shining”. But they didn’t even slow us down and ease us out of the show. Nope. They threw their heaviest song in last, “Jungle”. Their show never lost one bit of intensity – even during the slower songs. They took us high and freed us of the chains of societal responsibility and expectations, then took us down to the throes of anger and despair. Was it a jazz show? Hip-Hop? Alternative? Rock? No idea. But I’ve never gotten so emotionally grimy at a show. I’d follow them back in to the jungle anytime.
Check out our interview with Sam Harris of X Ambassadors