X Ambassadors have only one full-length album in their discography — “VHS,” released in June — but they are a skyrocketing band.
An affiliation with label mates Imagine Dragons, a Jay Z remix, a collaboration with Eminem and two hit singles that became part of two high-profile ad campaigns have quickly propelled the band from filling small clubs to selling out large theaters.
Saturday night, four months after playing a show at the 100-person capacity Tank Room, X Ambassadors returned to Kansas City, drawing a capacity crowd to the Arvest Bank Theatre at the Midland, where they delivered a show that barely cracked an hour.
Like Imagine Dragons, who helped XA connect with producer Alex da Kid and get signed by an imprint of Interscope Records, the Ambassadors are a genre-blending (or non-genre) band. Their music is a mix of rock, soul, electronica, folk and R&B with a few nods to hip-hop. As elusive as its roots are, the music is nonetheless mainstream and accessible. Thus the crowd was invested in each song all night.
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
They opened with “Loveless,” a song that illustrates the band’s strength — a knack for crafting melody and deep grooves — and its weakness — the lyrics, which can wallow in triteness: “I can't give you my love / I can’t give up on you / Give you the stars above / I can’t / I can’t give you love ‘cause I’m loveless, loveless.”
They followed that with “Hang On,” then “Love Songs Drug Songs,” an invigorating hyper-percussive rock-soul anthem with shifting dynamics. XA is fronted by lead vocalist Sam Harris, a baritone who can also unleash a keen falsetto.
Like Harris, his three bandmates are high-energy performers onstage, especially Harris’ blind-since-birth older brother, Casey, who indulged in bursts of hyper-gesticulations all night.
Sam Harris played saxophone and guitar and bass on a few songs. Otherwise he bounced, hopped, danced and strode about the stage, often stopping to engage fans up front.
Those fans gave nearly every song a boisterous ovation, even the lesser material, like “Unsteady,” which bore a Hozier vibe; the cloying “Naked,” a heady mix of pop, hip-hop and rock that can’t overcome its vapid lyrics: “All my faults, all your stars / Who I am, who you are / I wanna be, oh, naked with you, naked with you”; and “Gorgeous,” which name-checks James Dean in its over-earnest declaration of lust and infatuation: “We are young, we are free / Like renegades, like James Dean / Beat the drum, sing off-key / You set me free.”
Speaking of renegades, the highlights were the hits, and none got a louder or more euphoric response than “Renegade,” a song forever attached to a high-profile Jeep commercial. They followed that with the tribal, rabble-rousing “Jungle,” one of their more effective and dynamic songs. The show had just clocked in at 60 minutes when they returned for a two-song encore that lasted about six minutes and included “Unconsolable” (misspelling intentional, I guess).
By any standard, it was a short headlining show, especially for a theater tour: 12 songs in under 70 minutes. But this band’s fans don’t seem to mind. After Saturday’s show, X Ambassadors were on the road to Dallas, where two sold-out House of Blues shows await them.