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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: Cigarettes After Sex plays a ‘Heavenly’ show

Greg Gonzalez and his band brought their “Sweet” sounds to The Ryman on Sept. 12.
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Barrie Barto
Greg Gonzalez steps back from his microphone at The Ryman, as photographed on Sept. 12, 2023. (Hustler Multimedia/Barrie Barto)

If you are familiar with Cigarettes After Sex’s album cover art, you could guess what their show at The Ryman was like. Like the simplicity of their album covers, their live shows are a low-key performance that allows the audience to focus on the heart of the band’s success: their incredible lyrics and melodies. With a black background and white lights, they made The Ryman Auditorium feel like an intimate recording session with the band.

Randall Miller on bass, as photographed on Sept. 12, 2023. (Hustler Multimedia/Barrie Barto)
(Barrie Barto)

If you’re unfamiliar with Cigarettes After Sex, they are a band from Texas that has the perfect music for your “Chill Vibes” playlist. Each of their songs has lyrics that focus on falling in love and the hundreds of emotions that come with it, producing with music essentially the same words in different fonts. Their most popular song, “Apocalypse,” was released in 2017 and feels more relevant in post-COVID years than ever.

The show began just after 8 p.m. CDT as thick black curtains parted down the middle to reveal each band member walking to their respective instruments and mic stands. Jacob Tomsky, the drummer, cracked open a can into his microphone, and the music began. 

With each song, the crowd’s volume rose and fell as they sang the opening few bars of each song and then quieted down to listen to the band. The first two songs were originals — “Crush” and “You’re All I Want”  — but the third was a cover of Brooks and Dunn’s “Neon Moon,” which the band officially released in 2018. Gonzalez’s wistful guitar continued into “Nothing’s Gonna Hurt You Baby.”

As one song bled into the next, the fog on stage changed to create different ambiances for each. It spilled onto the stage and engulfed Randall Miller on the bass before surrounding Tomsky during the next. By halfway through the set the fog had settled into a thin layer on the stage. That combined with a steady drum beat from song to song created a heavenly atmosphere on stage. 

“Thank you all so much. This is our newest single. This is called ‘Bubblegum,’” Gonzalez said. 

This mention was one of the few times the band talked to the crowd, but it was a nice break from the rolling rhythm from song to song. A silhouette of Gonzalez projected onto the back walls of the Ryman — a larger-than-life shadow over the crowd. When the backlight faded, Tomsky was lit up and his arms as they moved around the drum kit threw star-shaped shadows across the stage. 

After a few technical difficulties, Cigarettes After Sex played my favorite of their songs, “John Wayne.” This name conjures up images of Westerns and the Golden Age of cinema, which fits right in at the Ryman — a historical fixture in Nashville. 

As Gonzalez played “Cry” and “Sunzetz” later in the set, he walked closer to the edge of the stage, cueing a shout of delight from the crowd. But no one was more excited than the girls in the front pews, to whom he handed a guitar pick  after each of those songs. 

“We love you so much, Nashville,” Gonzalez said. 

And Nashville felt the love. As the band played their last few songs, the crowd built in anticipation for the reason many attended. A change in the sound from the stage finally came as Gonzalez stepped off his platform and up into the spotlight. He shredded a few minutes of guitar solo at the end of “Dreaming of You,” adding a touch of improvisation to a very safe set. This solo woke the crowd up before “Apocalypse.” 

The Ryman rose to their feet and faces in the crowd were awash in the dim light from phones recording the stage as the first few notes rang out from the guitar. As the drum beat brought the song to life, the crowd screamed along with Gonzalez. 

Cigarettes After Sex’s live performance sounds exactly like their recorded music, but I have never felt so safe at a concert. Wrapped in the reliable tempo of the drum and lulled by the smooth vocals, I felt like I could have been under blankets listening to my “Laid-back” playlist on Spotify. Instead, I was sharing one of my favorite bands with a room of Nashvillians who appreciated the dependable slowcore music from Cigarettes After Sex as much as me.

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About the Contributor
Barrie Barto, Senior Staff Photographer
Barrie Barto ('25) is majoring in medicine, health & society with minors in communication of science & technology and neuroscience in the College of Arts and Science. She previously served as Photography Director. Outside of The Hustler, you can find Barrie cheering on the St. Louis Blues or tracking down the best gluten-free food in Nashville. She can be reached at [email protected].
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