On the night of October 20th, a sold-out crowd packed into Union Transfer in Philadelphia. The anticipation was palpable, buzzing in the air as every concertgoer breathlessly awaited the appearance of S. Holden Jaffe, otherwise known by his stage name: Del Water Gap. When the house lights finally dimmed, leaving only a faint, blue light on the stage, the crowd erupted in cheers, growing even louder once Jaffe’s silhouette was visible through the haze. The lights came up as the opening song, “NFU,” began to play, and the crowd shifted forward, eager to be closer to the singer. Jaffe, dressed in a sheer black top and sporting some edgy eyeliner, looked effortlessly cool. Del Water Gap is technically his solo project, but he was accompanied on stage by guitarists Nick Cianci and Zach Esposito, as well as drummer Ross Hodgkinson.
Jaffe moved on the stage with unfaltering energy, constantly jumping and skipping around, never standing still for more than a few seconds. With all this confidence and stage presence, it might surprise you to learn that he only has a few years of touring experience under his belt. He previously embarked on a tour for his 2021 debut album, Del Water Gap. But watching him on stage and seeing how naturally he captivates the audience, you would think he’s been doing this for decades.
Half of the night’s setlist came from Jaffe’s new album, I Miss You Already + I Haven’t Left Yet, which was released on September 29th. Despite the fact that these songs had only been released three weeks earlier, the crowd sang along to every single word. IMYA+IHLY deals with a multitude of themes, those that Jaffe has been grappling with over the past few years – love, heartbreak, nostalgia, burnout, and even sobriety. Jaffe is an expert at crafting songs that place emotionally tumultuous lyrics overtop a catchy beat that one can’t help but dance to, and most of the songs on the setlist fell under this category. Whether it’s emotional unavailability (“Gemini”), self-doubt and liminal spaces (“Coping on Unemployment”), or the fear of a relationship going south (“All We Ever Do is Talk”), Jaffe imbues each song with his infectious energy. One song, “Beach House,” was especially exciting to witness, as purple lights flashed wildly on the stage, creating a strobe effect that portrayed the drug-addled state described in the lyrics.
Jaffe also added a good amount of his older discography to the setlist, much to the audience’s delight. This included tracks from his beloved debut album, which Jaffe performed as if they were fresh. During “Better Than I Know Myself,” Jaffe and his two guitarists played the guitar interlude while leaning against each other’s backs and staggering around the stage, as the audience roared in response. While performing “Perfume,” Jaffe hopped off the stage and made his way into the audience, dancing with the fans and encouraging them to jump with him on the final chorus. That’s another thing about Jaffe; he has a deep connection to his fanbase, treating them like friends, and never keeping a wall up between himself and the audience. In one instance, an audience member called out to him during a pause between songs, requesting that he play his song “To Philly” even though it wasn’t on the setlist. At first Jaffe joked back, playfully saying, “Oh, we’re doing requests? I don’t come to your concerts and yell requests at you!” But then he played the song, of course.
Going back even further in his discography, Jaffe played songs from his 2019 EP, Don’t Get Dark (“Chastain”, “Laid Down My Arms”) and his 2018 EP, 1 (646) 943 2672 (“Let’s Pretend”, “High Tops”). This revisitation of his old work felt especially poignant after Jaffe shared with the audience that he almost quit music for good in 2020. During the pandemic, he was struggling both personally and professionally, and he became so disillusioned that he stopped making music for a while. But then, he experienced a swell of attention after one of his songs, “Ode to a Conversation Stuck in Your Throat,” went viral, and he was suddenly thrust back into the music world, ready to try again.
After “finishing” the show, the musicians came back on stage for an encore, first playing “We Will Never Be Like Anybody Else.” This was the most vulnerable song of the night, and it allowed Jaffe’s vocal strength to really shine. His raw, bellowing voice conveyed the pain of reflecting on a lost love and all of the unique parts of a relationship that you’ll never be able to replicate. The final song was his biggest hit, “Ode to a Conversation Stuck in Your Throat.” The crowd reached its loudest volume of the night as fans sang along to the final chorus of the song, dancing and throwing their hands in the air. After the song ended, Jaffe expressed his deep gratitude for his fans and all the support they’ve shown him over the years. The earnestness and intentionality of the moment was quite touching. I think that’s what stands out the most in the aftermath of this show – Jaffe’s ability to connect with his listeners.
Del Water Gap is growing in popularity each year, and for good reason! Jaffe is both a fantastic songwriter and a captivating performer, able to write emotional ballads and dance-worthy bops alike and perform them with a passion that demands the crowd’s attention. Despite that, there is no larger-than-life persona or facade present here. Hundreds of fans were in attendance at this show, yet it felt as intimate as an open mic night. I credit this to the relationship that Jaffe has cultivated with his fans, through his honest songwriting, his transparency on stage, and his enthusiasm in interacting with them. It’s clear that he treasures that special connection between artist and fanbase, maybe now more than ever.
In his song, “Doll House,” Jaffe sang about needing “a break from the pain and the color of your walls,” and that’s exactly what this show provided – a respite from everyday life; a night of collective fun, belonging, and connection with a truly talented artist. Although Jaffe doesn’t have any more upcoming performances in Philly, you can check out his discography for a taste of the magic that is Del Water Gap.