High Noon Saloon was the perfect venue for Friday’s deeply personal and enthusiastic performance by Del Water Gap, the solo project of New York-based musician S. Holden Jaffe.
This was my first time at High Noon Saloon, and I found it to be a much more relaxed, comfortable setting than the Sylvee or Majestic. The crowd was genuinely nicer; everyone had enough personal space to sway or jump along when the songs warranted it.
Jaffe and his opener, Taylor Janzen, performed for a sold-out crowd, but at times it didn’t feel like one. It surprised me that there was open room at the back of the first level. When the tour announcement came out, I was shocked that the Madison stop was at a smaller venue, especially since Del Water Gap seems to have picked up in popularity recently.
Over the course of the night, I realized that this was actually the ideal setting to showcase such intimate songwriting. Taylor Janzen made this immediately clear. Her stripped-back instrumentation allowed her incredibly clear voice to shine through in highly personal lyrics.
She made herself available at the merch table, where I overheard fans complimenting her on her sheer vocal talent. I also appreciated her life-size cutout of Zac Efron that stood imposingly behind her on stage. Side note: I apologize on behalf of Wisconsin for the fact that the world’s largest Culver’s did not have a gift shop.
Jaffe and his bandmates took the stage and moved swiftly through the setlist, which featured some of his early work and many selections from his first, self-titled album released in October 2021. He changed between his four or five guitars frequently, sometimes needing to stop and tune or tweak them. He improvised and asked us for “non-cheese Wisconsin facts” in these breaks since it was his first time in the state.
Other than that, Jaffe, who confessed he grew up shy, didn’t say much between songs except pausing to offer gratitude or brief explanations for songs like “Chastain” and “Alone Together.” He said the latter was about meeting someone during the pandemic. It felt almost eerie to hear the lyrics “Don’t you find it moving how we’re still alone, still alone together?” as we start to move further away from our memories of the past two years.
Besides his confident vocals and reflective lyrics, the crowd was gripped by his stage presence. At times, it seemed like Jaffe used every square inch of space he had available. He wore a cape-like trench coat and seemed to glide from one side of the stage to another without losing any of his endurance, only stopping once to catch his breath after one of his up-tempo songs.
The beauty of Del Water Gap is that his music can effortlessly shift from the personal to sheer fun. The crowd was ready to stop and take in his storytelling, then go crazy when the pace picked up thanks to his talented backing members. This was the case during “Let’s Pretend,” the first song I ever heard from Del Water Gap that proved to me that Spotify’s Discover Weekly algorithm does sometimes work. The almost off-tempo slowness of the first half of the song transitioned into something that everyone wanted to dance along to.
I think the crowd responded best during these rockier moments. Jaffe performed a cover of Avril Lavigne’s “Complicated,” which he also released as a Spotify Single earlier in the week. The crowd seemed to skew slightly older than other shows I’ve been to in Madison, and I could tell they enjoyed screaming along to familiar lyrics from the early 2000s.
While some of Jaffe’s songs seemed new to the crowd, I was impressed by the recognition of some of my favorites like the newer “Perfume” and the older “High Tops.” The crowd’s energy for these songs was almost as high as for the encore, which featured “Ode to a Conversation Stick in Your Throat,” his most streamed song on Spotify that I expected most of the crowd was waiting for.
High Noon Saloon proved to be the perfect, intimate venue for Del Water Gap and Taylor Janzen to engage the crowd, whether encouraging us to reflect on their confessional lyrics or simply vibe to top-tier indie music.
Final grade: A-
state news writer