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.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Kansas City Star
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.