The last time Del Water Gap played in Nashville, lead singer Samuel Holden Jaffe was running a 103 fever at the Mercy Lounge – which famously closed last year. He softly explained the previous show before stating, “I’m really honored you’re all here.” It was a sentiment he would return to throughout the night. Not a single song was played without him saying “thank you” at the end.
Before Del Water Gap could take the stage, indie singer-songwriter Kristiane opened the show. Her low-key stage presence felt a bit stiff and awkward at times, but it came across as very genuine. Her frequent interactions with the crowd felt akin to a writers-round, creating a very intimate feeling for the audience. While the performance featured a prominent backing track, she was accompanied by her bassist for the entire set and switched between a Fender stratocaster and acoustic guitar for a number of songs. The set maintained a very chill tone as the crowd slowly built up. About halfway through, Kristianne explained how she enjoyed covering songs that were her inspirations for getting her into music before launching into a cover of “Video Games” by Lana Del Ray. The familiar song re-energized the crowd for the slightly more upbeat second half, featuring an unreleased song and her debut single “Wish I Could Be Your Girl” to close it all out.
The stage was already set for Del Water Gap, so there wasn’t much of a wait in between the two performers. A large box tv and fake plant sat stage left while a hotel cart full of luggage and a chandelier half-hazardly draped with fairy lights sat stage right. The sparse hotel decor called back to a recurring motif throughout his second album I Miss You Already + I Haven’t Left Yet.
As the lights dimmed, the band filed on stage before Jaffe charged out opening with their most recent single, “NFU.” Without pause, the band played two more of their driving singles – “Losing You” and “Better Than I Know Myself” – with Jaffe yelling ad-libs throughout. At one point, Jaffee and his guitarist – Nick Cianci – even started trying to push each other across the stage with their heads.
The energy quickly dissipated as Jaffe began speaking directly with the crowd. If the “thank you kindly” that followed each song wasn’t enough, he made his gratitude known during these moments. The acoustic portion of the night started with “Doll House” off the most recent album. Afterward, to the surprise of the crowd, he began playing “Laid Down My Arms.” The single is from early in his career and was never officially placed on an album. He followed with “Chastain” and “Let’s Pretend” which, similarly, were never official album releases. Especially following his opening speech, this section of the night felt like a love letter to his beginnings. While there is a distinct difference between Del Water Gap’s early work and now, his uncomfortably specific confessional writing style remains the same.
The performance returned to the new album with “Gemini” and “Quilt of Steam.” During “Quilt of Steam,” the giant television on stage clicked on for the first time that night. The visuals paired with the subtle backing track, featuring vocals from Arlo Parks, created an almost dreamlike feeling that bled into another old favorite, “High Tops.”
Jaffe again began speaking to the crowd, his soft presence contrasting the subsequent songs “Glitter & Honey” and “Beach House.” Both tracks feature darker, almost sultry, instrumentation that describes tales of late nights and sexual encounters. In particular, “Beach House” stood out on Del Water Gap’s newest album. The track features a driving synth line and shuffling drums that also stood out in the live setting. As the lights dropped to a dark blue strobe, the crowd and performers became nothing more than silhouettes, transforming The Beast into a nightclub for the following four minutes.
The lights came up again for “Perfume,” as Jaffe ran into the crowd for the chorus, encircled by fans and their smartphones. Similar to the opening numbers, they closed with up-paced singles “All We Ever Do Is Talk” and “Coping on Unemployment.” After briefly leaving the stage, the band returned for the encore. Album-closer “We Will Never Be Like Anybody Else” is a beautiful and simple ballad, and while the performance was great, it did feel like an odd encore selection. In perhaps the only predictable moment of the night, Del Water Gap closed with his hit song “Ode to a Conversation Stuck in Your Throat.”
At the end of the night, what struck me most about Del Water Gap was, despite how tight the band sounded, the listening experience was still very intimate and almost casual. The guitarist walked on stage miming drumlines with a toothpick in his mouth and sang along with the crowd the entire night. During Jaffe’s monologues, the bass player could be seen drinking tea from a ceramic mug, as if he was in the comfort of his own home. Del Water Gap may be brushing elbows with some of alternative pop’s biggest names, but they somehow manage to still feel like a bunch of dudes who are just excited that you let them on stage.
Listen to the new album – I Miss You Already + I Haven’t Left Yet – here: