My mate Mike first alerted me to X Ambassadors. We have a thing where we recommend new music to each other, which started years ago when we bonded over a mutual appreciation of Joe Jackson’s massively underrated body of work. We don’t always see eye to eye (or is that ear to ear?) but will always give each other’s suggestions a listen. My choices are usually prefaced by, “I saw this amazing band last night. You won’t like them.”
When I first heard X Ambassadors, I wasn’t overly impressed. It wasn’t that they weren’t good, in fact they reminded me a lot of the band Delta Rae (minus the female voices) whom I had seen on their only UK tour a few years back, and they left a great impression. Their music can probably be described as Americana-pop-rock, which is nothing like the stoner-surf-garage-psychedelic rock that I mostly seem to be listening nowadays.
When the opportunity came up to photograph X Ambassadors on their current VHS tour, I thought I would give them a second chance. It would be a pleasant evening and a nice easy shoot with acoustic guitars and vocal harmonies. Boy was I wrong.
The venue was The Venue (formerly ULU), which is in the University of London student union, and has been refurbed to host more high-profile gigs. Stereophonics played their London gig there last week, and the upcoming schedule is looking pretty impressive. The evening was opened with a set by Minke, a guitar-led sort of dream pop. My expectations for an easy night were still intact.
As the roadies set up for the headliners, there was an impressive selection of guitars on stage, including a Gibson Explorer, not what I expected to see for some acoustic music. The band walked quietly on stage to rapturous applause from the surprisingly young audience. Guitarist Noah Feldshuh strapped on the aforementioned Gibson, and it all kicked off. Frontman Sam Harris was bouncing all over the stage, first singing, then with his Fender bass, then playing sax. The lights were switching from strobes to backlit spots to swirling floor spots, going from blindingly bright to subdued blues and reds. Harris was up on the barrier with the ecstatic fans. He was sweat soaked before the second song was done. Keeping up with him was hard enough, but with a camera, trying to keep in focus and properly exposed, proved a monumental task.
However, this does prove how important live music is. You are never going to know a band until you see and hear them beyond the constraints of studio recordings, and if X Ambassadors’ performance was anything to go by, there can’t be too many studios that successfully capture that amount of performance energy.