On Tuesday, April 8 the X Ambassadors, a Brooklyn-based alt-pop quartet, played Rochester’s Bugjar. I interviewed the band’s frontman, Sam Harris, a few weeks ago. We discussed the band’s diverse set of influences. To reiterate, the X-Ambassadors bring together anthemic stomp-clap beats fit for large stadiums, a modern keenness for atmosphere and watery textures, hard-hitting rock sensibilities, and the type of gravelly disenchantment with the daily grind that’s integral to crossover country music. Considering how tactfully the band fuses styles together on their studio work, the idea of the X Ambassadors headlining a punk venue like the Bugjar wasn’t all that out of line. The Bugjar showcased the X Ambassadors in a more intimate setting than they would perform with tour mates Imagine Dragons, offering fans a chance to feel the band’s larger-than-life presence up close.
Throughout their set the X Ambassadors straddled the line between accessibility and experimentation. While songwriting and musicianship are of a solid caliber with the band, the X Ambassadors’ captivating edge lies in the band’s command of texture. Onstage, the band’s setup was simple, but the X Ambassadors utilized its instruments to do justice to the immaculate production style of its studio work. Keyboardist Casey Harris rocked a double-decker “Nord” keyboard setup, while guitarist and keyboardist Noah Feldshuh devoted equal attention to his synthesizers and toy piano as he did to his guitar. Drummer Adam Levin provided a tight rhythmic backbone, accentuated by frontman Sam Harris’ side duties on percussion (and saxophone!). Between the four musicians, the band’s pop songwriting sparked with the kind of distorted synthesizers and slide-guitar decay that nu-jazz acts like Marco Benevento and Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey adore. Impressive.
The X Ambassador’s set covered the band’s still-young discography, which consists of 2013’s “Love Songs Drug Songs” LP and 2014’s “The Reason EP.” It’s hard to identify what constitutes an X Ambassador “staple” – not so much because of the band’s still-rising popularity, but because every X Ambassadors song possesses the kind of pop smarts to be the band’s hit. That being said, the X Ambassadors executed all of their songs – from the open-road ballad “Free and Lonely” to the throbbing and falsetto-driven “Stranger” – with enough conviction to be the end-of-set, get-your-smartphones-out-and-pretend-they’re-lighters crowd pumper in an arena gig. As the frontman, Sam Harris engaged the audience, performing every song earnestly.
Highlights from the X Ambassadors’ set included the band’s cover of the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” along with its performance of “Giants,” an original that channeled the cinematic, sky-is-the-limit style catharsis that Imagine Dragons masters so well. Influences aside, the X Ambassadors’ performance showcased the band’s originality and inventive approach to modern pop songwriting. Even in a setting like the Bugjar which is most conducive to punk rage with minimal clashing frequencies, the X Ambassadors made a compelling case for their game-changing pop style. I can only imagine how the band sounds in stadiums.
Howard is a member of
the class of 2017.