[ATTENDED: January 31, 2016] X Ambassadors
I have had a great string of luck with opening acts in the last year. But that more or less came to an end with X Ambassadors (the first half of the tour had Phantogram as the opening act, whom I would have been pretty psyched to see). I didn’t know X Ambassadors at all before seeing this show (although I understand that they have a number of singles out).
It’s not that X Ambassadors were bad, because they weren’t. It’s not even that they didn’t fit with Muse, although really they don’t. There was just something flat about them. And that is really surprising because they sure looked and acted like they were ready to be huge.
They played the center circular stage. Noah Feldshuh on guitar was at 9:00 as I looked at the stage. Keyboardist Casey Harris was at 6:00 and drummer Adam Levin was at 3:00. Lead singer Sam Harris was all over the place. He ran around, jumped and bounced and really got the crowd into it. I assume they were into it.
Sam Harris has a great voice–he can wail, he can hit high notes, he can croon, he can do it all. He might as well be a star on a TV music show. And I think that’s where the problem with the band is for me. They are playing a show with Muse and they have a sound that is kind of heavy. But I think they’d be better suited with a less “alternative” rock sound. I think an RnB vibe would suit his voice better.
The band was pretty tight. But their sound just didn’t ever seem to be full enough. At one point I looked over at the guitarist and saw he was playing bass and wondered if he had been playing that all night–I couldn’t tell (he hadn’t been). The real oomph of the music comes from the keyboards and the drums.
I couldn’t really see what Levin was playing, but he seemed to have a really elaborate electronic set up. And he kept an interesting beat and cool percussion thing going on throughout the show.
I feel bad for the people who couldn’t really see keyboardist Casey Harris, though as he is hugely animated and really makes most of the sound of the band. When he came out on stage I saw that he had a cane with a tennis ball on the end. Turns out that Casey has been blind since birth. This amazed me in retrospect because he was moving around (in a limited space) quite a lot. He turned his back on the rack a few times and I have to wonder how he oriented himself so quickly. He played some amazing riffs and solos. I also enjoyed the completely wild way he danced around–he was clearly really into it. Also, how interesting to see a blind person do rock star thing like clap over your head to get the audience to clap along, which he has never seen anyone do.
So what was wrong? Partially, I think that since they weren’t hooked up to the Muse sound system (they can’t have been), their sound wasn’t quite as big as it needed to be to fill the arena. They had the stage manners and presence of a huge stadium band playing at limited capacity (maybe on a different stage set up, they might have pulled this off better–that round set up made them seem very distant from each other).
And then there was Sam Harris. he had all of the rock star trappings in place–“Hey Philadelphia, you all look gorgeous,” “I want you all to sing along with this one.” “Turn on your cells phones for this song.” It was like he was going to pull out all the stops. But when he grabbed the saxophone during what I assume was “Love Songs Drug Songs” I just rolled my eyes and thought–oh God not a sax solo. But he didn’t play a cheesey solo, he played a low noisy thing for a bout a minute and that was it–it hardly seemed worth it. he also played a sax solo at the end of the final song and then held the sax up at the end of the show.
During a song in the middle of the set, he strapped on a guitar for a song. It just seemed like he was trying too hard. At the same time it was hard to deny his incredible singing voice, especially during “Gorgeous,” which could indeed be a pop hit with a different sound. Their big single is “Renegade” which is super catchy (with a chorus of Hey, hey hey hey) and I’m surprised they didn’t end with that [Heh, turns out it was written specifically for a commercial for Jeep Renegade].
In the end, I think I was too excited to see Muse to give X Ambassadors a chance, but I don’t think I’ll be looking for anything from them going forward.
|Love Songs Drug Songs|