Collaborations with the likes of Lil Wayne, Eminem, Imagine Dragons, Bebe Rexha and Jamie N Commons have suggested a genre fluid or maybe even genre free identity for New York’s X Ambassadors. Performing at Electric Brixton last week though, there could be no doubt of their ambitions as the quartet delivered an exercise in big pop rock riffs and choruses, which showed why some of hip hop’s biggest names have come knocking for a stadium worthy moment. The performance marked the start of their Joyful European tour, which shares its name with their soon to be released second album.
Almost every track was delivered with a verve and enthusiasm that suggested the band felt it was a certified hit and could open or close the set with equal impact. With the performance of tracks such as ‘Renegades’, ‘Unsteady’ and ‘Gorgeous’ this approach felt largely justified, further endorsed by the response of a rapturous crowd. The setlist was complemented by the fantastic presence of lead singer Sam Harris whose range, and his falsetto in particular, filled the not-small venue with ease. He glided across the stage effortlessly, encouraging the fans and his bandmates alike.
However, the pursuit of killer hooks could, at times, come at the cost of their overall track composition, and as a knock on, a diverse setlist. X Ambassadors could therefore drift into comfortable middle of the road territory at times, particularly where the chorus fell short of the mark. The lack of featured Jamie N Commons on ‘Lowlife’ also demonstrated the limitations of the band as they could not replicate the gravelly folk-blues of their co-writer. Nonetheless, new tracks such as ‘Don’t Stay’ demonstrated a band acutely aware of what they are best at. Nowhere was this more evident than on the bombastic ‘Jungle’. Underpinned by its big bassline and crunching riff, the band moved through sax and guitar solos, enthralling the near capacity crowd with one of their biggest and most memorable hits to date.
The band also littered the performance with powerful messages of self-worth, freedom and equality, in a similar vein to Nashville support act Morgxn. Confessional new track ‘Hold You Down‘, which draws on Harris’ relationships with estranged love ones, demonstrated the ability to turn these ideals into powerful music. However, it was an acoustic performance of early track ‘Litost’ which provided one of the few truly touching moments of the set and brought to mind the best of Sometimes-era City & Colour.
When these two elements of impactful songcraft and emotive lyricism combine there is potential for the band to take themselves to that next level, following in the footsteps of recent collaborators Imagine Dragons in headlining the O2 in London. With a new album on the horizon, this could provide the material to take them to that next level, so watching their progress over the next year will be interesting. For those in Brixton on the night though, they will have gone home pretty satisfied with a strong gig from a fast-rising pop act.
A stripped back acoustic version of lead single ‘Ahead of Myself’ was released last week and they will also be returning to Europe for a run of non-UK dates later this year.
Joyful is due for release in April 2018 on Kidindakorner/Interscope Records and is available to pre-order HERE.
Words: William Sutton
Photo: Catie Laffoon