Review: X-Ambassadors at Musikfest

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Review by Justin Burkhardt

The X-Ambassadors with special guests Rachel Platten and Jukebox the Ghost, kicked off the 2016 Musikfest season in fine fashion when they took the Sands Steel Stage on Friday night. The show, which had what looked to be around 4,000 attendees, was just really solid from start to finish.

The X-Ambassadors played with high energy through their 70-minute 12 song set and showed they have the ability and sound to be an even bigger act in the future. The band features Sam Harris on vocals/guitar/saxophone, his brother Casey Harris on keyboards, Noah Feldshuh on lead guitar, and Adam Levin on drums. The band’s sound is the type that sounds just as good, if not better live.

Sam Harris is a front man with both personality and talent. From hip-hop, to rock, to soul, you can truly feel all the different genres that have inspired him and the X-Ambassadors in every performance. That’s what makes them such a strong band to see live. I went into this concert as someone who just kind of liked the songs he has heard from them, but left it a big fan. Harris is a rare front man who can hold his own on stage dancing, singing, and playing multiple instruments.

A standout song to me was “Feel” which features Sam on sax and was co-written with Imagine Dragons. X-Ambassadors showed throughout the night that they can be just as big, if not a bigger band then Imagine Dragons. Another standout to me was “Nervous” which saw Sam play both the guitar and saxophone during the song.

Another high note during the set was actually the musical interlude before their hit “Unsteady” which featured a nice little keyboard solo by Casey Harris. Casey, who is blind, was truly amazing on the keys all night long.

The X-Ambassadors radio hits “Unsteady”, “Renegades”, and “Jungle” sounded even better live. I was actually surprised honestly how good Jungle sounded live. I’ve always loved how it sounds recorded, but I’m also a huge fan of Jamie N Commons (Seriously though check him out as well!) and thought it would be missing him. And while I still kind of selfishly missed Jamie’s unique voice, Jungle sounds even more powerful live and I was impressed. Levin’s drums really stood out on the song as well.

Sam Harris had the crowd going all night long, but especially during “Unsteady” and “Renegades”. During “Unsteady”, the entire crowd sang along to the chorus so well that Sam even said “Wow” and noted just how amazing the crowd sounded singing together when the song ended.  The show ended with the band returning for an encore to play the song “Unconsolable”, a powerful deeper cut from their 2013 EP Love Songs, Drug Songs.

The X-Ambassadors were a great choice to kick off Musikfest and I wouldn’t be surprised if in a few years they will be too big of a band to play at the festival. The band only has one full length album out and they are already put on one hell of a show. After another album or two, we may be saying “remember that time X-Ambassadors played Musikfest?” because they have all the potential in the world as a band right now.

Singer-songwriter Rachel Platten took the stage right before the X-Ambassadors and she performed 10 songs over 45 minutes. Platten can play the guitar and piano, but it’s her voice that is the star of her set. Platten, who was backed by a 3-piece band, showed her versatility throughout the set. She shined on her current hits “Fight Song” and “Stand by You”, both of which had the audience singing along.

She also played an emotional and strong version of “Better Place”, which she dedicated to a loved one of hers who is dying. She told the audience it was a really tough decision to not be there with her loved one, and you could tell she gave her all during the song.  Platten also performed her 2011 hit “1,000 ships” and talked about how the song was her first taste of fame.

Where Platten really stood out to me was on the song “Lonely Planet”, which started softer but eventually showed just how strong of a voice she has.  Another strong song of note was “Hey, Hey Hallelujah”, a funky soulful song that showed she’s more than capable of singing the ballads you know her from.

Platten did a great job connecting with the audience all night and showed she has a strong stage presence. She also showed in her set that she is more than just the woman who sings Fight Song and she definitely deserves more attention an as artist.

Jukebox the Ghost, a 3-piece indie pop band from Washington D.C. opened the show with a 10-song 45 minute set as well. All three members of the band are very talented and they are well on their way to becoming a household name. The highlight of their set for me was a cover of Queen’s “Somebody to Love”. Singer/pianist Ben Thornewill did Freddie Mercury justice (this is coming from a big Freddie fan) and showed just how talented he is. The band also mentioned that they’d be doing shows performing nothing but Queen songs in Philly and NYC soon, which would definitely be worth checking out.

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