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Strand Of Oaks Infects Schubas With Hope, Joy

By Casey Moffitt in Arts & Entertainment on Aug 19, 2014 4:20PM

photo credit Dusdin Condren

When Strand of Oaks finished the last song of their ferocious, hour-long set at Schubas Sunday night, frontman Timothy Showalter laid his guitar down and bounded off the stage to give free hugs to everyone in his path on the way to the merchandise table.

It was this kind of enthusiasm that permeated the whole show. Showalter owned the stage as he bellowed his heartfelt songs and strumed—or occasionally strangled—his black Fender Telecaster. He repeatedly expressed his appreciation for the response Chicago audiences have given him and his music, and his excitement for playing in front of yet another sold-out crowd in a venue that seemed special to him.

"I grew up in Indiana, about two hours from here," the current Philadelphia resident said. "I used to sneak into Schubas when I was under age. Sorry Schubas. But it's here, on this stage, where I first saw Jason Molina perform, and it changed my life."

He then launched into his tribute song to the late Molina, "JM," who has been a major influence on Showalter's songwriting. If ever there was an uplifting dirge written, "JM" is it. There is obvious sadness being expressed in the way chords are structured and the song is paced. But the lyrics end on a positive note, as Showalter reminds us that the memories of Molina's music survive long past the artist's time in this plane of existence.

It is this sort of dichotomy that Strand of Oaks isn't afraid to straddle. Showalter often sings about being alone, but rarely about loneliness. He sings of finding strength in moments of weakness. It makes the songs intriguing. It also doesn't hurt that they are well-crafted, and this band Showalter has assembled breathes so much life into them.

His not-so-secret weapon is keyboardist Eliza Hardy Jones. Not only do her vocal harmonies add a beautiful layer to the songs, she is also a very deft player. Her ability to weave between Showalter's chords and the bass lines to fill in gaps in the frequencies is uncanny. She also plays nice counter melodies to complement the songs without being distractions. And she does it with seeming ease. Next to Showalter's antics, it is the coolest thing going on that stage.

Showalter puts on a show, but it isn't forced or seem overly rehearsed. When songs like "Goeshen 97" or "Shut In" are ramped up, he get his long mane flying. When things slow down during songs like "Woke Up In The Light," he can get the crowd to mellow out and follow the shift in mood. He expresses anger, hope and optimism with obvious, but not exaggerated, mannerisms that make the feelings behind the songs infectious as he performs them.

It's an exhilarating performance, and makes great rock theater. But again, none of it would work if the songs were crap. Strand of Oaks has the material to back up the great stage show and create a fantastic rock package when playing live.

If there is a common theme in the latest Strand of Oaks album, HEAL, it is a celebration of music. During Sunday's show it seemed as if Showalter was trying to remind each person in the crowd why they fell in love with music and how it can be a powerful source of inspiration.

Although Showalter's lyrics can take turns into some dark places, like being around negative people or struggles with the bottle, the overall message is one of optimism. That no matter the demons one might face, there is a way to overcome with a little help and inspiration. Strand of Oaks makes it happen as it was hard to leave without feeling a little bit of joy.