‘La La Lost’ on tour: NIKI plays her greatest hits at Eastside Bowl

Niki Zefanaya revisited her Nashville roots on her first solo headline tour on Oct. 4.

NIKI+performs+at+the+Eastside+Bowl%2C+as+photographed+on+Oct.+4%2C+2022.+%28Hustler+Staff%2FAbigail+Kwon%29

Abigail Kwon

NIKI performs at the Eastside Bowl, as photographed on Oct. 4, 2022. (Hustler Staff/Abigail Kwon)

Abigail Kwon

Nicole Zefanaya (NIKI) played a sold-out Nashville show on Oct. 4 on her first solo headline tour. The Wash at the Eastside Bowl was an intimate venue with a speakeasy-style entrance at the back of a bowling alley. Although concertgoers walked through an unassuming door, I felt instantly transported to an exclusive venue in the 5,000 square foot storage-room-turned-stage. Even a full hour before NIKI’s set, the room was full of college students enjoying pre-show drinks and music. “Ready or Not” by Bridgit Mendler was blasting as soon as we walked in, and my expectations for the show skyrocketed.

Sundial, NIKI’s second opener, brought up the energy in the room with an upbeat set. The duo was all smiles as they rocked the bass and keys. Not necessarily what I was expecting as an opening act for NIKI due to their sunny, happy-go-lucky style but a great time nonetheless.

As we waited for NIKI to take the stage, a full-crowd sing-along to Taylor Swift’s “All Too Well” (10-minute version, of course) blasted from speakers. It was a full-circle moment for NIKI fans who knew that her first big break was opening for Swift on The RED Tour in Jakarta.

Finally, the main act began. Guitarist Tiana Ohara and drummer Fer Fuentes built up the suspense with killer chords and perfectly placed drum fills in the opening of “Keeping Tabs” from NIKI’s latest album. Finally, NIKI jumped on stage and kicked off the show in a way that can only be described as explosive. The room erupted with excitement as soon as she entered, and she commanded the attention of every person in the venue.

NIKI segued between songs with quippy transitions and audience interactions. She played three hits back-to-back and then recognized the city of Nashville as her first home in the States. As a Lipscomb University alumna, many of her early hits were penned right next door to Vandy. 

The rest of NIKI’s set did not disappoint. It’s time for me to shamelessly admit that NIKI has been my No. 1 artist on Spotify since tenth grade—you could say I’m a super fan. She played a healthy mix of upbeat and acoustic songs, pulling from her newest releases and dipping into classics like “I Like U” and “urs.” My personal favorites were her rock version of “lowkey” and a particularly punchy rendition of “Every Summertime” from “Shang-Chi and the Seven Rings.”

The singer struck an admirable balance between the best parts of her tracks while throwing in ad-libbed instrumental and vocal twists. Her band did not fail to keep up with her; the instrumentals meshed beautifully and generated a rich backdrop for NIKI’s voice to shine through.

NIKI’s greatest strength as a performer is undeniably her consistency. I attended 88rising’s Head In The Clouds festival last November where I saw her perform live for the first time. It’s clear that she is just as skilled at holding the attention of a 750-person audience as she is with a 10,000-person audience. She owned the stage with confidence but knew when to expertly hold back and let the audience sing it out.

Before the show, I anticipated that it would be impossible to choose which song in the set was my absolute favorite, but there’s a clear winner. Hearing “La La Lost You” live was exactly the cathartic release I needed. The song holds immense sentimental value in my heart—I blasted it on repeat this summer up and down the Pacific Coast Highway, wondering what life might be like away from the City of Angels. Hearing the song in Nashville brought me back to that time in my life that was filled with uncertainty and anxiety. 

NIKI’s music is a powerful outlet for teens like myself, especially within the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities. She’s the older sister that many of us never had, and her ability to communicate universal emotions like the innocent ecstasy of first love, the devastation of heartbreak and the growing pains of transitioning to adulthood resonate deeply with her audiences. For a community that is underrepresented in the media, NIKI’s music validates our experiences and shows our generation that despite the challenges and hurdles we may face, we deserve to exist in spaces where few have ventured before.

The show ended strong with NIKI’s “High School in Jakarta,” a lighthearted song about her high school experience and “teenage suburban armadas.” The crowd reciprocated the band’s energy and sang along to every word; drummer Fer Fuentes ended with a smash as NIKI shouted “Goodnight Nashville!”—and a good night it was. Most concerts leave you wanting at least one more song from the performer, but NIKI’s set was perfectly satisfactory from start to finish. Be sure to check out her latest album “Nicole,” and see her live the next time she plays near you.