Del Water Gap has leaped the barricade in SWG3 Warehouse on Sunday night and is making his way to the far edge of the crowd and back before jumping, along with all 500 people of the sold-out crowd, to his song “Perfume.” Whether or not the audience came to the venue that night knowing the words to this song, they were surrounding him and singing along with him, the energy palpable. This is what S. Holden Jaffe – the Connecticut native who created the solo project Del Water Gap at university in New York City does – he walks on stage with charisma and confidence that motivates his audience to exalt in his performance, encouraging them to sing along with his consistently catchy verses and follow his every move. He feeds off of the audience’s energy, an energy which he has created just by his very presence. It is a reciprocal relationship. 

Jaffe’s extremely talented opening act, Jean Ryden, set a tone that he was quick to contradict but that was powerful nonetheless. Accompanied only by her purple guitar, an electric keyboard, and a cellist sitting to her left, Ryden’s voice was magical but sad, her face non-emotive as she sang of her personal experiences with grief. While at times she had to work to be heard over the drum track and some of the non-attentive members of the audience, she was commanding and compelling, especially for someone who had only ever played three live shows prior, as she admitted near the end of her set. Ryden is certainly one to watch, evoking talent similar to Lana Del Ray in her vocal range and infusion of classical elements.

Del Water Gap’s music, on the other hand, deals in the world of desire, and Jaffe’s stage presence is a testament to the adrenaline of such strong desire. The bottom line of nearly every song is the compulsion to be close to someone, whether that be emotionally or physically. With songs like ‘Hurting Kind’ and ‘NFU’, set against rock instrumentals, Jaffe sets intense emotions of yearning against fun rock sounds, making the feelings tangible. Meanwhile, he interludes with tracks like ‘All We Ever Do Is Talk’, which is purely about missing the physicality of sexual attraction, which you can feel in the room. As a performer, Jaffe is engaged the entire time, always leaping, soloing, and swinging the mic or his own guitar. Look closely and you can see the toll that touring internationally can take on a young performer: at one point, he admits that he’s had a bad day caused by the familiar culprits of over-caffeination and imaginary arguments running through his head. But he succeeds in keeping the energy up, lapping the stage throughout the entire performance, only leaning into exhaustion at the right emotional moments in his songs that call for him to lay down, crawl, or sit on the drum stage. Otherwise, he is passionate, compelling, and hungry.

After introducing his drummer as “Ross from Aberdeen” and encouraging the crowd to cheer for their fellow Scot, the sound went out on the mics and instruments during ‘Laid Down My Arms’. Ross assuredly kept the beat going to the end of the song as the audience chanted, and then Jaffe began making jokes about the problem, keeping his cool to let the venue sort the issue. He asked for Glasgow gossip, chatting to a fan about a long-distance girlfriend while taking people’s BeReals. Despite the incident’s potential to be a major hiccup to the set, Jaffe seamlessly picked right back where he left off as soon as the sound reconnected, proving his prowess as a live performer. 

Towards the end of the set, Jaffe began to explain how he was just a kid who wrote songs because he was bad at sports and needed a way to tell girls he liked them – a familiar story. But then he admits that he nearly quit music before, as he poignantly states, “This great big breath got breathed back into my art.” And on this night, he is blowing that breath right back to the audience, reminding us of the energy and power of excellent art and of an excellent performer.