As the sun was setting over Ithaca’s Stewart Park on Saturday night, X Ambassadors took stage for the inaugural Cayuga Sound Festival. The band is originally from Ithaca and was essential to the existence of the whole festival, as they curated Cayuga Sound’s lineup. Their set was comprised of known hits from their 2015 album, VHS, as well as released and unreleased singles from this year.
The band began with a powerful rendition of “Jungle.” Immediately, the band’s energy and enthusiasm was clear. It felt like an invitation spoken to everyone at the festival, even before the chorus, “Won’t you follow me into the Jungle?” Sam Harris, the band’s front man, switched between impressive vocals and smooth sax, and the audience was immediately captivated.
They continued with two more of their hits, “Loveless” and “Hang On.” Both were high-energy and rounded out a strong start to the show. At this point, it was clear the X Ambassadors were honored by the chance to play a festival stage in the town that raised them. Harris even reflected on how he was involved as a camp counselor in the very same Stewart Park.
They then broke from their better known tracks with singles from earlier this year, “Ahead of Myself,” “Hoping,” “The Devil You Know.” These showed a more vocally-rich sound than the bass-driven rock with which they started. This brought on a slower pace to the show, taking the performance to a more intimate level. This led beautifully into one of their softer hits, “Lowlife,” a crowd favorite.
Again, Harris took a break to offer personal references to Ithaca, with an improvised and informal “Gorgeous” spliced into Ithaca’s unofficial slogan “Ithaca is Gorges.” Harris’s vocals slowly gave way to an instrumental finish that showcased the skills of their keyboardist, Casey Harris (Sam’s brother), and percussionist Adam Levin. A stunning keyboard solo led into the band’s best known song, “Unsteady.”
Harris explained how he had long dreamed of seeing a show like this one in his hometown, and how incredible it felt to be on the stage himself amongst friends and family. He then announced, “as a treat,” the next two songs would be debuts of previously unreleased material. The first of these, “Joyful” is a bright, but sappy song that let Sam Harris’s vocal range shine. Harris introduced the next single, “Don’t Stay” as something they had never played in front of anyone before. Much like “Joyful,” the tune built from a soft, almost orchestral sound to an explosive hymn.
The X Ambassadors closed out their night with a memorable acoustic-electric rendition of “Renegades” and a powerful encore of “Torches.”
As a whole, the performance radiated love from both the festival audience and X Ambassadors. It shows a promising future for next year’s festival and for X Ambassadors’ upcoming album.