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The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

IN PHOTOS: Declan McKenna’s ‘Big Return’ Tour electrified Nashville

London native Declan McKenna’s return to Nashville brought energy and excitement to the Brooklyn Bowl.
Olivia Noell
Declan McKenna heads to the front of the stage for a guitar solo, as photographed on July 30, 2023. (Hustler Multimedia/Olivia Noell)

Although I was only away from Music City for a little over a month, I knew the first thing I had to do once I got back on July 30 was to see a show. Luckily, indie-rock artist Declan McKenna was set to play the first night I arrived, the perfect welcome-back party.

When arriving at Brooklyn Bowl, I was quickly reminded I was back in Nashville. Many familiar student faces and local indie artists, such as Annie DiRusso, filled the room. It felt great to be back with friends and connect over live music. While the venue wasn’t packed when I arrived, it certainly filled up by the time opener Eli Smart began to play.

I’d never heard of Smart until his performance, but I was blown away before he even began singing. Despite how causally Smart and his band walked on stage, they brought great energy. If fans weren’t already standing in the general admission pit, Smart’s first song, “No Destination,” quickly got everyone on their feet. 

Smart’s second song, “Highschool Steady,” was calmer but had a beat that prompted the crowd to clap along. He followed this with “Hope I Don’t Fall in Love.” Before playing his island-inspired “AM to PM,” Smart shared he came all the way from his hometown of Kaua’i, Hawaii, to play the show.

While Smart’s music and stage presence were incredible, one of the most memorable things about his performance was his band. Smart was joined on stage by Jordan Paul singing background vocals and Chris Whiteroot playing drums. Notably, the bassist, Denise Kaufman, was Smart’s grandmother. Not only was she incredibly talented, but also watching how strong the bond between her and Smart was made me enjoy the performance even more.

Smart ended his six-song set with his newest release, “Fiesta 99.9FM” and “Come On, Come On, Come On.” He then handed out guitar picks and other items to members of the crowd before walking off stage. 

Just before 9 p.m. CDT, ABBA’s “Dancing Queen” started to play on the loudspeakers to the tune of elated screams before the lights went down. McKenna and his band all walked on together and immediately began to jam before he joined in singing “The Kids Don’t Wanna Come Home.”

Next up was “Beautiful Faces,” during which the crowd switched from dancing to swaying with their arms up as McKenna sang the lyrics “beautiful faces smiling over us/lift your hands up and lead us back home.” 

One of my favorite aspects about the show was how connected the fans were to each song. There wasn’t a single opening chord where I didn’t hear a fan scream, “This is my favorite song!” or something similar. This sentiment certainly proves the success of his vast discography, as each song has touched someone in a special way. 

McKenna made it clear throughout the night that he loved his fans as much as they loved him. Not only did he take a fan’s hat to wear for a portion of the set, but he also spent many songs at the very front of the stage to be as close to the crowd as possible. 

“We love being in Nashville; it’s one of our favorite cities in America,” McKenna shared. “I made an album here.”

While McKenna spent most of his time playing guitar, he proved his multifaceted talent when he switched to piano for some songs, including his fourth song, “Be an Astronaut.” He also brought attention to his guitar skills while he brought out what I’d describe as a statement guitar — one coated in gold glitter. McKenna played it while performing “Why Do You Feel So Down” and other songs throughout the night. 

McKenna was joined by Isabel Torres on guitar, Linus Fenton on bass, Ben Limmer on the drums and Henry Pearce, who played various instruments throughout the night, one of the most interesting being a flute. 

Performances of hits such as “Twice Your Size” and “The Key to Life on Earth” led up to McKenna singing his highly anticipated song “Brazil.” After he finished the song, McKenna took a break from singing to jam out on guitar with his band and to perform what reminded me of an Irish jig. I later learned this interlude was called “Fred Finn’s Reel.” 

McKenna closed the night with his most recent release, “Sympathy,” where opener Smart and vocalist Paul ran back on stage to sing along. Although the energy was high the entire show, it was especially exciting to witness both acts performing together since each group was so talented.

Shortly after leaving the stage, McKenna returned to perform an encore of two final songs: a cover of George Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass” and “British Bombs.” McKenna kept the fan interaction high as he ended his show by running through the entire crowd, something I’ve never seen an artist do at Brooklyn Bowl. 

One thing is for certain: McKenna definitely made a “Big Return” to Nashville.

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About the Contributors
Sara West
Sara West, Deputy Photography Editor
Sara West ('25) is majoring in psychology in the College of Arts and Science and human and organizational development in Peabody College. Sara loves going to concerts, thrifting and exploring new places. She was previously Deputy Photography Director and hopes to enter the music industry after graduating.  She can be reached at [email protected].
Olivia Noell
Olivia Noell, Staff Photographer
Olivia Noell (‘25) is from Anniston, Ala., and is majoring in neuroscience, medicine, health and society and gender and sexuality studies in the College of Arts and Science. She enjoys hammocking, spending time with friends and trying new restaurants around Nashville. You can reach her at [email protected].
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