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Review: X Ambassadors brings energy, catharsis to Knitting Factory show

UPDATED: Thu., Nov. 18, 2021

By Johnathan Curley For The Spokesman-Review

A current of festival-sized energy hit Knitting Factory on Tuesday evening when pop-rockers X Ambassadors, with anthems like “Unsteady” and “Renegades” in tow, played in downtown Spokane in one of the final stops supporting the September album release “The Beautiful Liar.”

“It’s so good to see you. We have really, really missed you,” singer-guitarist Sam Harris said to the crowd early in the night after Alejandro Aranda, aka Scarypoolparty, served as the opening act.

The New York band, whose platinum-selling debut album “VHS” lit up the Billboard charts with the two aforementioned earworms in 2015 (“Renegades” went to No. 1), played up such fan favorites while offering material from the new, unapologetically unpredictable concept album.

“The Beautiful Liar,” X Ambassadors’ third full-length effort, is a departure for the group in sound and story, fixing their typically hopeful eyes toward the worst of humanity over morose arrangements that soundtrack the story of a blind little girl whose shadow comes to life.

It is a dark culmination of the supernatural and the super-real; in other words, it’s an album that only the pandemic could co-produce, and hearing songs like “Beautiful Liar” and “Adrenaline” live almost feels like a cathartic comeuppance for artist and audience alike.

“It has been a particularly difficult time, to put it mildly,” Harris said, “One of the hardest things I think I’ve encountered personally throughout that time is how do I look at the people who I love and care about the most in the eye and tell them that everything is going to be OK?” he asked the crowd before launching into “Okay.”

Harris, a founding member alongside brother and keyboardist Casey Harris, drummer Adam Levin and Noah Feldshuh (who left the group in 2016, with touring musician Russ Flynn assuming live guitar duties), also played an acoustic medley of songs that bear X Ambassadors’ songwriting fingerprints, including Lizzo’s “Cuz I Love You” and Kygo’s “Undeniable.”

“Don’t worry, the irony is not lost on me,” Harris said. “I know I’m up here by myself playing these collaborative songs.”

The Harris brothers and Flynn took to the stage in slim, black pinstripe suits and Nike sneakers – an aesthetic that makes more and more sense considering how many timeless rock and soul elements make up their sound on the surface, but what lies beneath is deceivingly sophisticated modern songcraft and surgically precise hip-hop/pop production.

It’s that same songcraft that manifested magic in real time when the Knitting Factory audience immediately joined Harris in singing the opening chorus of “Unsteady” and again in the encore for “Renegades,” singing almost the entire first chorus without his help.

Consider that energy and Sam Harris’ electric stage presence (especially when he sheds said aforementioned pinstripe blazer to reveal swole sleeves that almost draw away your attention from the stratospheric vocal runs of which he’s capable), and there is ample evidence to argue that the best Tuesday night in Spokane was had by those able to catch X Ambassadors.

In fact, the band may have just had the entire room living like renegades.

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