In celebration of their 27th anniversary, Austin radio station KGSR brought Grouplove and X Ambassadors to co-Headline their party at ACL Live at the Moody Theater on an uncharacteristically snowy Thursday night. A portion of the ticket price benefitted the SIMS Foundation.
Los Angeles pop-rockers Grouplove took the stage first, bringing their tremendous energy to a packed house. Some of the fans had waited in line since 11 AM to snag a prime position in front of the stage, and by the looks on their faces and the screams they let loose, they were not disappointed.
Charging the stage and taking their position in front of a pair of giant inflatable teeth, Grouplove launched into “Welcome to Your Life,” off of their latest album “Big Mess” and there was no turning back.
The show was nonstop musical cacophony, held together with delightfully meaty hooks that forced you to quit thinking and just feel the joy. The band is a bit punkier live than on their recordings, which is a good thing. Their live performance roughs-up the studio sheen of their pop-rock anthems and brings a raw power that is instantly transferred to the audience.
With continuous bouncing, jumping and too many head-banging hair-flips to count, the husband and wife duo of Christian Zucconi and Hannah Hooper shared vocal duties and powered through their hits. Guitarist Andrew Wessen, drummer Ryan Rabin, and bass player Daniel Gleason somehow managed to hold down the rhythm while executing some inspired flailing, bopping and dancing on their own.
To the crowd’s delight, they played “Itchin’ on a Photograph,” “Raspberry,” and a spirited version of “Tongue-Tied,” that had the audience singing at the top of their lungs.
About halfway through the set, they played a delightfully ragged version of the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” that inexplicably raised the on-stage energy level even higher. Zucconi jumped off of the drum riser and shouted from his knees before Hannah led him across the stage on a microphone leash and belted out a verse of her own. The two ended up in a pile of contorted bodies midway through the song before bursting forth with the next verse. Such fun!
GROUPLOVE PHOTO GALLERY
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After such a high energy set, you would think that the guys in X Ambassadors would be a little nervous. If they were, they certainly didn’t show it. Opening their set with a single spotlight on lone guitarist Russ Flynn playing a bombastic solo full of 80’s hair metal excess, the band took the stage with force. Launching into one of their biggest hits, “Jungle,” vocalist Sam Harris prowled the stage. He shouted the song’s boastful lyrics to an overly excited audience, asking them to “Follow me into the jungle” while drummer Adam Levin pounded out the track’s heavy beat. At the song’s bridge, Harris grabbed a bass guitar and proceeded to do a succession of jumps that punctuated each rhythmic accent. As the song drew to a close, Harris grabbed yet another instrument – a saxophone – and belted out a gravelly solo that perfectly complemented the song’s rhythmic grittiness. And that was just the first song.
While Sam Harris draws the main focus during the band’s live performance, his brother and keyboardist Casey is a close second. He is musically on point, playing beautifully majestic piano interludes one moment and scratchy rhythmic synth riffs the next. But it is the unbridled passion in which he plays that is the draw. Stationed behind his keyboard stack, he bobs and sways along to the music, looking like a cross between a human metronome and an interpretive dancer. It wasn’t until after the show that I discovered that Casey has been blind since birth. Amazing.
The band played through their hits including “Gorgeous,” “Loveless,” “Love Songs Drug Songs,” “Unsteady,” and of course, “Renegades” straddling the line between indie and straight ahead rock with an emphasis on rhythm. Sam’s vocals easily transitioned from rough to soulful and back again, proving to have the vocal chops to go along with his incredible stage presence.
All-in-all it was a fantastic evening for both KGSR and the fans, combining two diverse bands that share a passion for hook-filled songs delivered with high energy musicianship. The fans exited the theater with smiles on their faces and a warmth in their souls that hopefully helped negate the effects of the chilly night air.
X AMBASSADORS PHOTO GALLERY
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SIMS provides access and financial support for mental health and addiction recovery services to Austin musicians, music industry professionals, and their family members. SIMS works with over 90 therapists, psychiatrists and addiction recovery professionals in the Austin area to provide low or no cost services to music professionals suffering from depression, anxiety, trauma, stage fright, relationship problems, addiction and other serious mental health issues. SIMS Foundation: We’re Listening. For more information, please see www.simsfoundation.org.