WRITTEN BY: JARED PHILLIPS
“It’s good to be home,” Timothy Showalter shouted out to a wall to wall crowd at Union Transfer on Friday evening.
It was a strange thing to hear from an Indiana native, but Showalter has called Philadelphia home since his move here post-high school. It’s where Strand of Oaks’ unique blend of synthy psychedelic dad-rock has taken up root.
Heck, I remember when I was a WXPN intern and I first discovered the Showalter-led outfit as he was touring on the heels of 2014’s critically acclaimed HEAL. It was a refreshing reminder for a 20-year-old who had grown up on The Boss and Neil Young.
HEAL was a deep dive into the tumultuous journey that has been Showalter’s life over the past few years, with lowlights including his wife’s affair, his house burning down, and getting into a serious car accident. HEAL was a vessel for Showalter to depict some of the biggest hardships of his life, and the result was a critical darling.
That progression led to the victory lap that is Hard Love.
The follow-up to HEAL, released on February 17th, was what brought Strand of Oaks to Union Transfer on Friday night.
Led by heart-on-the-sleeve garage rocker “Radio Kids,” Hard Love is a call to happier times for Showalter, but ballads like “Cry” are a reminder that while he has picked up the pieces of HEAL and is beginning to move forward, life is far from perfect.
Both releases understandably dominated the setlist Friday night.
After a spirited opening set from Louisville folk trio Twin Limb (think a less-bombastic Florence & the Machine), Strand of Oaks took the stage to a sleek intro jam that sounded not unlike Hard Love’s closing “Taking Acid and Talking To My Brother.”
Just when you think that’s where they were going it morphed into HEAL highlight “Shut In,” detailing Showalter’s’ dependency to alcohol when everything seemed crashing down around him.
No worries, though, the 8-minute epic “Taking Acid” immediately followed, which describes Showalter’s dream (the title has a rather ironic usage) encounter of his brother’s ghost after his brother had a near death experience. Just when you thought the tribulations were over right?
“Taking Acid” faded into the latest hit, the aforementioned “Radio Kids.”
“I’ve been in my bedroom writing these songs and dancing,” Showalter said. “I’ve been looking forward to doing this in front of people,” was the lead in to “On the Hill,” one of Hard Love’s best foot-stompers.
They followed that with two HEAL tracks, the title track and “Plymouth,” before finishing the set with Hard Love’s “Everything” and “Rest of It.”
Strand of Oaks bid adieu to the audience well aware they were about to be on their way back out, which is of course customary for any headlining band.
But this wasn’t any ordinary encore.
“We’re gonna burn this one a little extra long,” Showalter yelled as the opening chords of the seven-minute slow burner “JM” began, my personal favorite track and a lynchpin on HEAL.
This was followed inevitably by HEAL opener “Goshen ‘97,” a track that harkens back to Showalter’s upbringing in Goshen, Indiana and perfectly embodies where his feel for classic rock and roll melodies collide with his unique ability to write you into a moment in his life.
That’s where the true artistry lies in Strand of Oaks. You may not be able to relate to the specific moments in Tim Showalter’s life, but a listen to his work gives you the perfect front row seat.
- Intro Jam
- Shut In
- Taking Acid and Talking To My Brother
- Radio Kids
- On the Hill
- Rest of It
- Goshen ‘97