Words by Mallory Biggerstaff — Images by Dianna Augustine
Something that never gets old is the feeling of your first warm weather concert of the year. After being shut up indoors and bundled up all winter, it’s a familiar nostalgia to stand in a crowded venue you’ve been in a hundred times; your face flushed with heat and everyone around you toting cold, condensation-covered beers.
What makes it better? Doing this exact thing while watching a band you’ve enjoyed since they were under the radar headlining their own show for the first time.
Four-piece alt-rock crew X Ambassadors aren’t strangers to Charlotte. We’ve seen them before, but this time we saw them a bit differently. A little under halfway through their 13-song set at The Fillmore on Saturday night, lead singer Sam Harris reminded everyone by declaring, “About a year ago, we were here [in Charlotte] as an opening band. This time… it’s our show!” Their show it was, accompanied by opening acts pop band POWERS and Swedish singer/songwriter Seinabo Sey.
Back before the rest of the world caught on to what makes this band so unique and talented – the days of EPs and when their band name was minus a letter – the group of brothers and long-time friends were four guys that just really enjoyed making music. With a hauntingly good lead voice, interesting lyricism and a rarely seen loyal disposition amongst themselves, it’s not really a surprise that we found ourselves just a year later from their opening act days witnessing them running their own show and tour.
Kicking off the night Saturday was the high-energy pop squad, POWERS, with an upbeat female lead vocalist and everyone on the stage switching up spots and instruments left and right throughout their entire set.
A hard-to-resist blend of pop style music with an alternative edge, the band excelled at their responsibility of opening up the night and warming up the crowd before anyone else.
Proceeding to keep the audience buzzing and thriving was a soulful outfit hailing all the way from Stockholm, Seinabo Sey. Bringing absolutely delicious vocals that reached right out and grabbed you where you stood, the electropop songstress took control of the stage and didn’t let go of it until she exited stage left.
Taking the stage under a shroud of shadow, the brothers and friends finally graced us with their presence not long after their preceding pals, not keeping us waiting for long (bands always get good props from me when they don’t waste any time between transitions). You could catch Sam helping his brother, keyboardist Casey Harris, to his spot up front before taking center stage next to him, but other than that moment, it was easy to forget that Casey is actually blind once they got going.
Expelling the most physical energy out of all four bandmates, Casey rarely stood still throughout the entire set, coming quite close a few times to ringing his bell with his microphone stand. It didn’t appear to me that he seemed to worry very much about it, though, as it looked nothing short of having the time of his life.
Wasting no time giving everyone the songs they’d been waiting all night to hear live, the band started off their setlist with a recent tune, “Loveless,” and an oldie more of the longer-standing fans probably recalled, “Love Songs Drug Songs.” A favorite from their recent album, VHS, “Superpower” made it high up on the list of songs of the night, as well as the beautiful rock ballad “Unsteady” and incredibly upbeat “Nervous.”
Rounding out their set were the group’s most known tunes, “Jungle” and “Renegades,” and the encore performance featured another well-known jam, “Unconsolable.”
There wasn’t a single moment during the entire show where you were left wondering if anyone up on that stage absolutely loved what they were doing. An obvious brotherhood and partners in music-making, they moved from song to song, transitioning from hard-hitting to easy-going smoothly.
They also happen to be that formidable rarity that not only sounds as good live as they do recorded, but may actually sound even better in person. Their album is strung together with songs that you can turn up and get lost in, while also providing performances you get just as lost in – even in a room full of people and white noise.
I’ve compared this band to Imagine Dragons before, style and technique wise, and I stand by that comparison even in live performance. Having seen Imagine Dragons live twice before seeing X Ambassadors, I would easily categorize them in the same close knit family where not many others can get a pass.
When a band stuns me and impresses me with a live performance beyond the moment I heard their record for the first time and knew they were one of my new favorite bands, I know they’re someone worth seeing again live any chance I get. These guys meet that criteria, and then some.
Do yourself two favors immediately; grab their album, VHS, as soon as possible and clear your schedule whatever day they play in or near your town. I’ve only spent the time and money on two bands in my life where I saw them live multiple times on the same tour, (one three nights in a row) and I can easily say if the opportunity was available, I’d have done the same with X Ambassadors.
See full gallery here.
See them on tour: