Concert Review: X Ambassadors and Smallpools visit Campus


Emily Blobaum/Iowa State Daily

Vocalist Sam Harris of X Ambassadors performs at the Memorial Union Thursday night. 

Charlie Coffey

X Ambassadors and Smallpools took to the stage at the Great Hall in the Memorial Union on Aug. 27. While X Ambassadors was the headline event, Smallpools also brought a lot to the table.

Smallpools, the indie pop band from Los Angeles, blasted a strong set that boasted a sense of humor and an emphasis on audience interaction, with lead vocalist Sean Scanlon even jumping into the front row at one point.

Smallpools kicked off their visit to Iowa State with the song “Over & Over” which had the crowd addicted right off the bat. Scanlon came onto stage acting as a conductor before picking up the mic and delivering an impressive set.

“Street Fight” followed “Over & Over” where the instrumental drowned out some vocals, but it wasn’t noticeable enough to lessen the experience.

Smallpools continued to perform a couple of average songs up until the fifth song, “A Real Hero” which had the entire audience using their cellphones to illuminate the Great Hall. The song is a cover they released as a single in 2015. The original song was sung by College and Electric Youth for the movie “Drive.” To finish off the song, all the members of the band except Beau Kuther, the drummer, left the stage and Kuther produced a powerful drum solo.

The band then headed into the song “American Love” which is a fast-paced pop song that had the audience bopping to the beat. Scanlon and Joseph Intile, the bassist, dropped their parts in the middle of the song to perform a duo xylophone piece that was hilariously careless.

Things became even more interesting when Scanlon explained the title of the next song, “Killer Whales.”

“When we started the band, we would Google ourselves and we kept finding rants about how it was wrong to keep killer whales in small pools,” Scanlon said. 

After “Killer Whales” the band wanted to show their roots a little bit and covered the song “You Get What You Give” by New Radicals. Scanlon explained this to the audience with the following, “Our first year in LA was tough, full time jobs and rent to pay. When we finally found time to write songs, boy they were s—. So we sang other people’s songs. And we sang this song a lot.”

The band finished out their set with the song “Dreaming,” the song that sang the most to the audience, sending the crowd into a dancing daze.

X Ambassadors, a band from Ithaca, New York, was quite a change from their opener. The recently released album “VHS” headlined the tour that led the X Ambassadors to Iowa State University. The band is described as alternative rock, but they deliver much more than that.

The unique aspect of X Ambassadors is the wide variety and range in their songs. Sam Harris’ vocals and the instrumentals of Casey Harris, Noah Feldshuh and Adam Levin each have multiple different sounds. The band as a whole can produce anything from a soft slow rock to fast-paced heavier hip-hop.

Starting off the set with “Loveless,” Sam Harris’ impressive stage presence, surprisingly, did little to pump up the audience. Whether it be that the X Ambassadors’ music pertains more to passive listening or that the song was not a good first choice, is unknown.

The tide did start to turn when the X Ambassadors continued their set though. Their fifth song, “Unsteady” proved to be a crowd pleaser, with a slower pace and a nice folk rock sound to it. Leading with a piano intro set the tone of the song and resulted in the audience singing along with Sam Harris.

The X Ambassadors continued pumping up the audience with each song, eventually hitting the song “Naked.” Sam Harris introduced this song as, “a song about taking your clothes off and whatever else follows.”

The band’s tenth song in the set was their widest known, with over 25 million listens on Spotify, “Renegades.” The song continues, and probably defines, that folky theme of “Unsteady” and “Naked.”

The band’s intended final song, which was “The Jungle,” is their second widest known piece. “The Jungle” steps away from the folk rock theme and steps into a heavier instrumental sound and Sam Harris’ hip-hop sound.

After “The Jungle,” the audience called for an encore and X Ambassadors answered with a short cover of “Can’t Feel My Face” by The Weeknd. The band ended with Sam Harris on the saxophone, a unique trait for a rock band.

X Ambassadors are pushing the limits and boundaries of genres with their music and they definitely gave a unique experience to the students of Iowa State University.