Del Water Gap Concert Review: Honesty Enveloped in Shoulder Pads

Jaffe’s unexpected strength was engaging the crowd in musically simple moments.
By Asha M. Khurana

By Asha M. Khurana

Del Water Gap knows honesty — honesty so strong, audiences can see it in his dancing, feel it in his singing, and hear it in his speaking.

Following the release of sophomore album “I Miss You Already + I Haven’t Left Yet,”on Oct. 23 S. Holden Jaffe — the frontman of the solo project Del Water Gap — has embarked on a U.S. tour. Jaffe stopped in Boston for a two-night stint at the Royale downtown, filling the room with young people clad in leather and corduroy.

Jaffe instantly commanded the stage physically: David Byrne-adjacent shoulder pads shrouded his lean frame in ’80s nostalgia. And, as they did throughout the show, his knees bounced with impossible elasticity to the kick drum. Opening with the anthemic “NFU” and “Losing You,” Del Water Gap set the driving tempo that grasped the attention of the audience.

While upbeat moments brought the energy, Jaffe’s unexpected strength was engaging the crowd in musically simple moments. The outro of “Laid Down My Arms” let the audience into the intimate sweetness of his vocals as he effortlessly belted the final lyrics into a sparse guitar chord: “I laid down my arms On the day you came along.”

Jaffe’s sweetness took on a different avenue in “Let’s Pretend.”

“This song is about being in the honeymoon stage. If you’re in that right now,” Jaffe said, “Lucky you!”

In one of the highlight cuts of the show, Del Water Gap’s signature dynamic indie rock mingled with a cutesy “oom-sha-la-la” for a sound that was romantic and heartfelt without being cloying. Jaffe swayed over to guitarist Nick Cianci, who offered truly stellar backing vocals as they pressed their foreheads together in kinship.

The set hit a bit of a lull with the mid-tempo cuts “Gemini” and “Quilt of Steam,” which sat just out of reach of their sweet spots of slow sweetness and upbeat euphoria. They quickly hit their stride again with the 2017 fan-favorite “High Tops.” Fans cried out the line “I open up my heart / it's all for you,” as the band beamed back in gratitude. He followed the song by reminiscing on his show at Cambridge’s Sinclair — the 525-capacity room was his biggest show at that time.

“I cried a lot that day,” Jaffe said, “And I’m back in Boston and I’m not crying.”

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Jaffe’s emotional candor with his fans was clear in his spoken words between songs just as it has always been in his lyrics. The band seemed to have a profound awareness that the pivotal moment of the show was on the brink of occuring. The following song, “Sorry I Am,” opened with both the band and the audience hollering the lyric “I wish I could tell you / How sorry I am.” Suddenly, the Royale was filled with the regrets of everyone in the room, and with each ensuing song, the band seemed to grasp the crowd’s emotional magnetism, riding it to the very end of the set.

“Perfume” saw Jaffe wander into the crowd ahead of the song’s electrifying bridge; every audience member followed Jaffe’s lead, dancing freely to the very last beat. The brutally frank lyrics of “All We Ever Do Is Talk” and “Coping on Unemployment” carried the band off stage as the audience cheered, suspended in euphoric emotional overdrive.

For the encore, Del Water Gap returned to the stage in theatrics: Jaffe posed with his hands on a prop bed, crooning along to “We Will Never Be Like Anybody Else.” Somehow, naked emotion still shined through the performance art. Closing with the hit “Ode to A Conversation Stuck in Your Throat,” the audience was back to dancing. This time, though, they held the knowledge that the conversations in Jaffe’s throat were laid bare that night, just for them. Anyone there would feel so lucky to sing, dance, and speak as freely and honestly as Jaffe. Music, the band suggests, has the power to liberate artists and audiences alike.