– By Cristina Dirlea
Guess how much you had to shell out to attend the sold out X-Ambassadors (aka XA) show at the Opera House. Four times the original $20 price tag! I wish the money would have gone to the artists, not scalpers, but nothing beats the feeling of holding that paper ticket in your hand, the key that opens the doors to a sold out show.
The line-up snaked around the corner, but the best place to be was not in front of the venue, but rather at the back of the line, where one had to pass by the imposing tour bus, parked on the side street. A lit up window sent fans wondering aloud whether members of XA were chilling on the bus, just a few feet away. However, peeps were respectful and did not attempt to knock on windows; after all, this was the band’s home away from home and not an aquarium.
The venue, with a capacity of 800, was packed from front to back, not just close to the stage and people were happily chatting to their friends or strangers, smiles all around.
LA based Grizfolk did a great job of warming up the vocal chords of the audience by encouraging them to sing the simple “oh oh, my my, gotta get lost to get it right,” which is still stuck in my head. Got any advice to cure me? Their melodic Americana sound made for easy listening and attracted new fans, while devoted ones sang along to all their tunes, proving that they weren’t just an opening act, but rather a big part of the night’s success. Their stage presence was down-to-earth, yet dedicated and engaging. With these guys, what you see is what you get, but the fact that they managed to blur the line between stage and audience speaks volumes to their showmanship.
As soon as the interlude music stopped and the stage went dark, cheers erupted from the crowd, crazed with the anticipation of finally seeing X-Ambassadors perform live. While just two years ago they performed at The Rivoli, they will undoubtedly play a much bigger venue than the Opera House next time they grace our city with their presence. With buzz from the likes of Rolling Stone magazine and Jay-Z remixing their tune “Jungle,” it’s clear XA are on the fast track to becoming a household name. If you skipped the concert because you got tired of hearing “Renegades” on the radio, well, you missed out. Seeing XA live is an absolute must! But I also highly recommend checking out their solid new album, VHS, and their thoughtful videos that communicate a complex message of acceptance, inclusion and peaceful rebellion of the underdogs.
Based on listening to their new album before the show, I was expecting a low-key performance with Sam Harris crooning heartfelt songs, such as “Gorgeous” or “Unsteady.” Instead, XA surprised with an energetic rock show and an expansive and commanding stage presence by the lead singer. His goosebumps inducing vocals seemed like the cherry on top, rather than an expected highlight. Whether it was a sax solo or slowly moving his hands down his body, not stopping at the belt, he had the audience eating from the palm of his hand throughout the night. I would have missed the crotch grab, if it weren’t for the high-pitched screams and a sea of cell-phones rising above the crowd, like an offering to their idols.
At this point I changed from a position of holding my arms close to my body, head craned sideways like an owl’s, to a jumping whack-a-mole, and although it must have looked odd, it was the only way to catch a glimpse of the action on stage. Even when the stage was not visible, Sam’s sex-appeal oozed and enveloped the audience like a fog. He changed his demeanor to match the mood of each song, whether a ballad or the hip-hop infused track “Jungle,” thereby proving the band’s ability to translate their passion into a captivating performance, something that can only be experienced live. While their sound can be described as alt/indie rock with touches of blues and hip-hop, the qualifiers become irrelevant once you dive into their music. Moving, thoughtful lyrics and videos contrasted the punch that the live performance packed and added yet another layer of goodness, sure to blow the listener away. The tight instrumental performances perfectly supported Sam’s act and the range of their sound made it seem as though XA were just doing what they love, with fame as a welcome afterthought.
November 28, 2015
Photos by Véronique Giguère – https://www.facebook.com/veroniquegiguerephotography