X Ambassadors (Shrine Auditorium)

X Ambassadors | Shrine Auditorium (Los Angeles, CA) | August 4, 2015 | Photo Credit: Chad Elder |

Like that old slogan for Virginia Slims, since their inception as a band in 2009, X Ambassadors have come a long way, baby. The upstate New York alternative pop/rockers and long time friends (and family) have never hidden their collective jones for things funky, hip hop, soulful and R&B-ish and those wells get tapped on the regular: see their semi-biographical debut album, VHS, for further. I even recall in an interview a few years back confessing to me that they’ve even got a thing for musicals. Fair play and no judgements; I’m all about West Side Story and Little Shop of Horrors, myself. Today, the most discernible difference in X Ambassadors that time (and working with Alex da Kid) has yielded would be that the sounds have gotten larger and bolder, more experimental and bombastic, and in your face. As have their live performances.

Last week they brought their sonic story time to Los Angeles to the Shrine Auditorium’s Expo Hall as openers for Milky Chance. It’s an interesting room: long and cavernous feeling. But opening band slot be damned because Sam Harris (vox, bass, sax), Casey Harris (keys), Noah Feldshuh (guitar) and Adam Levin (drums) tend to perform like straight up headliners no matter what stage you put them on. As a band, they’re ambitious in their want for the songs (most of which already hit where your feelings hide) to punch exponentially harder when performed live. Things jumped off with the high octane, choir heavy “Loveless” and Sam Harris wasting no time collecting air beneath his bright white kicks as well as getting close and closer to the audience. Those speakers aren’t really for projecting sound; they’re for bouncing on and off of. The railing isn’t there to keep screaming girls in check; it’s for Sam to climb on in order to present himself for said screaming girls to cop a feel. And as it was obvious that there were plenty of X Ambassadors fans in the room, when it came time for some crowd participation, it took very little guidance from Sam for the chorus of voices to carry the intro of heartbreaker, “Unsteady.” It was booming and it was beautiful and I can only imagine how it feels to have your words sung back to you that way, en masse.

X Ambassadors make good and deliver on several musical fronts like Sam being a hell of a front man. Whether he’s head banging to the beat or silkily sexing you up, vocally flexing between digging deep or letting his soulful falsetto fly (I suspect even Prince would nod his royal head), wailing away on his saxophone or spanking the hell out of his bass, the guy is a performance beast. It doesn’t matter if it was the dark, lusty “Love Songs, Drug Songs,” the urban stomp of “Jungle” or taking your clothes off with “Naked,” whatever he’s singing, whatever he’s singing about and wherever it’s coming from, Sam thoroughly and shamelessly lays it bare in an effort to connect. As partners in the musical good time, Adam is all business behind the kit while Noah is meditatively intense in bending guitar notes. As for Casey: Behind those keyboards, he is the absolute and consummate “exhibit A” for the art of feeling the music from the inside out. So by the time their 45-minute set was up and they’d wrung the last bit of juice and thunder out of “Jungle,” X Ambassadors could put another notch in their performance belt.

Come back and see us again, soon, X Ambassadors; hopefully as headliners. I’m pretty sure that we can find more stuff for Sam to climb on. Perhaps even something to swing from.

Set list: “Loveless” / “Hang On” / “Love Songs, Drug Songs” / “Giants” / “Unsteady” / “Naked” / “Gorgeous” / “Renegades” / “Jungle”