“I’m really just a normal guy under this necktie,” S. Holden Jaffe, known by his stage name Del Water Gap, told his sold-out crowd at the 9:30 Club on Oct. 19. The necktie in question was a large silk ribbon fashioned in a loose bow atop an undeniably stylish outfit: a mesh black shirt, bell-bottomed black trousers, and patent leather heeled boots, which he showed off by playfully kicking his foot up so the crowd could get a glimpse. Despite his coyness and muted speaking voice, after a 90-minute performance of pure energy and vocal prowess, it was clear that there’s nothing “normal” about Del Water Gap.
Very few performers, even those that can entertain a crowd, leave you with the impression that they belong on stage; but Jaffe is clearly an exception. Although his lyrics, instrumentation, and production techniques make for impressive recordings, once experienced as an audience member, it was obvious that Del Water Gap’s music has to be heard live to be fully appreciated. The passions—of love, pain, lust, yearning—that he breathes into each song only become fully palpable when you’re in the room with him. There was no warm-up period before his set picked up; he came out guns blazing, and somehow kept his energy alive for the entire hour-and-a-half-long show. He forwent the over-rehearsed and formulaic performances that many artists lean toward, allowing emotion to propel his soaring vocals and make each song a genuine surprise.
His tour’s eponymous album, I Miss You Already + I Haven’t Left Yet (IMYA+IHLY, 2023), adds depth to Del Water Gap’s discography, imbuing his vibrant indie-pop with heavier rock instrumentation and introducing more somber themes. He somehow creates harmony out of this apparent discordance, reflecting the incongruity of melancholic nostalgia that arises when reminiscing on fond memories that are now relics of the past. As the title implies, IMYA+IHLY delves specifically into the bittersweet feeling of having something so good that you know it’s going to hurt when it’s gone. Fittingly, Del Water Gap invokes this anticipatory mourning on the “IMYA+IHLY” tour by giving his audience an electric performance that we never wanted to end.
His performance of IMYA+IHLY’s lead single “All We Ever Do Is Talk” perfectly distilled the impending post-concert grief. As the album’s opener, it may have seemed out of place in the latter half of the set, but the expectant crowd’s excitement exploded once the opening guitar riff played. The elaborate onstage set of a bedroom remained unused until this song, whose chorus reminisces on a heated night in a hotel as a relationship began to bloom. Featuring a bed with a vintage floral duvet, a retro TV, and a leather overnight bag, it was the perfect setting for this anthem about trying to rekindle a spark that flamed out ages ago. The brash percussive beat, plucky bassline, and ethereal synths evoke the simultaneous adrenaline and whimsy of the honeymoon stage. Jaffe brings us along for the whirlwind of those early days, then pulls a bait-and-switch by closing out the pre-chorus with, “But what happened?” The intoxicatingly electric instrumentation becomes devastatingly deceitful as Jaffe asks, “Will we ever get that feeling again?”
Del Water Gap’s lyrical vulnerability and stylistic singularity bring his listeners closer and closer to his core with each song; but despite his artistic individuality, Jaffe is certainly not a one-man act, as evidenced by the palpable chemistry between himself and his band. In fact, when Del Water Gap was born on NYU’s campus during Jaffe’s undergrad years, it wasn’t a solo pursuit. (One of the band’s first members was his classmate Maggie Rogers—now an international alt-pop superstar—for whom he opened on her “Feral Joy” tour last year.) After the group fractured and Jaffe graduated, he took up the alter ego on his own, releasing his first EP in 2013.
It wasn’t until his sophomore LP IMYA+IHLY—over a decade into his solo career—that he again enlisted collaborators to assist in the entire creative process, from the record’s conception to release. The dream team included producer Sammy Witte, whose resumé boasts names like Harry Styles, SZA, and Luke Hemmings. Witte’s wide-reaching expertise pushed Del Water Gap’s artistry beyond his comfort zone, diversifying his sound by folding rock and electronic elements into his indie-pop. This influence is most apparent on “Glitter & Honey,” a groovy track about a tryst dripping with lust and luxury. The thrumming bassline and twangy electric guitar, sprinkled with lyrics like “She’s on pills smokin’ menthols / Head to toe in YSL on the rooftop,” make for a devilishly alluring song that, if pitched higher, could very well be Harry Styles’s “Cinema”—one of Witte’s many producing credits. The vibrant pink lighting and hypnotically shimmering disco ball that accompanied this song saturated the performance with opulence, transporting us to a high-fashion club scene. When his guitarist delivered a funk-infused solo after the bridge, Jaffe danced alongside him, reveling in the lively ambience created by his own music.
Though many of Del Water Gap’s more recent songs veer into similar territory of indulgence and hedonism—the gritty, thrashing “Beach House” comes to mind, which he performed amid dizzying indigo strobe lights—his discography is not without its tender moments. On “Doll House,” he broke out his acoustic guitar for a more intimate performance, which saw him backlit in a purple-hued halo. When the opening notes of whimsical keys played, a reverent hush fell over the crowd; and once Jaffe’s soft vocal came in, we all felt the heartache of the lyrics bemoaning the desperation for companionship that is born out of loneliness. In a more sentimental moment, Jaffe took up his pastel yellow electric guitar to sing fan-favorite “High Tops.” The 2018 song, which he dedicated to the “OGs,” paints a nostalgic vignette of his hometown crush, who he affectionately dubs “the only queen of this one-horse town.” Everyone knew every word, singing and swaying along as Jaffe poured his heart out in this tribute to first loves.
This wallowing was short-lived, though, as Del Water Gap always brought the tone back to its more upbeat center. The unserious romp he recounts on “Coping on Unemployment” saw him bopping around stage on the bouncy verses and belting impossibly long notes on the chorus. Throwback “Perfume” had the whole crowd jumping in time with the booming drums and chugging guitars as Jaffe danced with us. This lighthearted ode to a partner had us all singing along about daydreams of our crush “with nothing on”—well, “with nothing on but your perfume.”
By the time he played the encore, viral hit “Ode to a Conversation Stuck in Your Throat,” Del Water Gap had proven his vocal power and inimitable stage presence multiple times over. When the dancing stopped and the house lights came up, we were all left wondering, “Will we ever get that feeling again?”