Photo by MARY LYNN DOMINGUEZ
Arriving at Union Transfer to see Strand of Oaks play a homecoming show felt a lot like walking into a gathering of old friends, without knowing anyone. As a self-proclaimed lone wolf, it’s a territory I have explored many times before. I’m used to tapping through my phone for non-existent text messages and notifications while being surrounded by overly affectionate couples and groups of friends who are, like, “Oh my God, so glad you came.” Still, I knew I was in for a good, interesting time. The most important thing I’d recently learned about frontman Timothy Showalter is that despite a life of heartbreaking turmoil— a cheating wife, a house that burnt down, homelessness and general uncertainty about life— I could expect the performance to be optimistic and uplifting, much like his Philly homies and supporters who were already there.
My expectations were met when Showalter took the stage with his band, dressed fully in black, with a smile beaming from the depths of his luxuriously grown hair and Sasquatch beard, carrying beers and ready to turn any frown within listening range upside down. Despite his ferocious appearance, much of Showalter’s music is super-catchy rock songs, backed by poppy synth sounds, and driving bass and percussion. The lyrics are honest, and often bleak, but were consistently performed last night with energy and enthusiasm.
Showalter paused frequently between songs to address the crowd— consisting of his friends, family and fans—to express how much it meant to him that everyone came to support him. He officially got the crowd moving with, “Goshen ’97,” which he said was the first of his songs he’d heard on the radio. The band also played Jason Molina’s “Pyramid Electric Co.” as a tribute, with Slo-Mo’s Mike Brenner, who recorded the original song with Molina. After Showalter said how grateful he was for the band to be able to play with Brenner, and talking about how he was never sure if he should continue to pursue music, he raised his hands above crowd, much like a preacher, essentially to say, “Fuck what brings you down, and do what makes you happy.” Throughout the set, the shout-outs became a mixture of increasingly passionate and drunken bliss.
Showalter and his band took turns swigging from a bottle of Jim Beam before announcing that they were going to attempt something they’d never done before, which turned out to be a cover of The Replacements’ “Alex Chilton.” At the end of the night, Showalter leapt into the crowd like a total rock star, and gave his most enthusiastic supporters a round of sweaty, whiskey-breath hugs. It was a fittingly twisted little rock concert storybook ending to Showalter’s rock n’ roll Cinderella story. And we all lived happily ever after. — MARY LYNN DOMINGUEZ