Sunday at the Honda stage, one of the biggest bands around became ACL 2018’s impassioned allies and all-around woke baes.
Write off X Ambassadors as corporate rock all you want. Bearded and bald-shaved frontman Sam Harris is going to take that negative energy and play you a nasty sax solo on “Jungle.”
You might remember that giant song from the 2014 World Cup.
Harris has the stage swagger of a kickboxer and a white-guy falsetto that could make Adam Levine blush. His simmering, procedural ballads make One Republic seem like hacks. He is the most interesting man in modern rock.
Think about distribution channels for music these days. The cultural cachet that comes with MTV rotation is over. Anyone who dares write a negative album review gets their home address posted on fan forums. Streaming statistics are used to validate artists. In the era of data rock that wins by going centrist, Ithaca, New York’s X Ambassadors are the blueprint for how to thrive online.
“I try to do something good, I try do something nice,” Harris said before “Low Life,” a #relatable down-on-you-luck anthem. “And it blows up in my face.”
PHOTOS: Day 3 of ACL Fest 2018
The opposite is true for the band’s career, which took off when Interscope Records launched “Renegades,” in conjunction with the Jeep Renegade.
But Harris offered up the weekend’s most blunt and powerful political commentary before his Jeep song.
“We believe women; we stand with sexual assault victims. We will always fight for justice,” Harris said. “If you feel silenced, we will be there to help raise your voices up.”
He also shouted out the Latinx movement and LGBTQ causes: “We are your allies. We are your friends.”
Are Tom’s Shoes stylish? No, but they stand for something, and that’s damn honorable.
“I will recover. I’ll be OK,” Harris sang on a song from an upcoming new album. He said it was about recovery. It’s not subtle, but it’s sincere.
It’s a minor miracle that a songwriter found pathos in writing about all-wheel drive — and a human connection. Empowering anthems like “Unsteady” were blanket singalongs that meant something to many.
“I can’t express how grateful we are,” Harris said after that one. Actually, he’s great at it.