Strand of Oaks - Great Scott, Allston Boston MA - Gigs - Reviews - Soundblab

Strand of Oaks - Great Scott, Allston Boston MA

by Rob Taylor Rating:9 Release Date:2012-03-18

Great Scott in Allston is a small, narrow venue in a part of Boston frequented by students and various ethnic groups, providing a healthy cultural environment.

Strand of Oaks, aka Timothy Showalter, played here once before, he tells me, 10 years ago, and the Great Scott website suggests this would have been at the approximate inauguration of indie-rock and underground at the venue. One of the ‘founding’ bands of the time, if I can put it that way, was Magnolia Electric Co, and it's tempting to think that Jason Molina’s influence over Showalter has its genesis around this time.


It transpires that this gig is the very first headlining gig for Strand of Oaks, so the event is especially poignant for Showalter, who proves upon introduction to be deliriously happy, with an approachability and warm affability uncommon on the indie circuit. For those left wondering, his abundance of hair is [in real life] more wookie in appearance than insipid new-ageist. He’s just a big, cuddly, hairy guy.


Our brief but sincere conversation has him praising his support act, Christopher Denny, and waiting attentively at the stage for the experience of watching him. For a guy who has reportedly engaged in his fair share of self-loathing over the years, Showalter was sure servin’ up the sunshine tonight.


On Strand of Oaks' opener 'Heal', Showalter raises his arms up in spiritual baptism, as if physically miming the catharsis that singing of his musical redemption provides, but it's more than introspection, it's a proclamation of happiness, or at least self-assuredness, which he wants us all to share. It ain't God’s dream manifest. The music shines to coalesce with a great human moment. Showalter asks for a drink, and is promptly given one. Signs about not feeding the bear advisedly ignored.


The ode to Jason Molina, 'JM', is especially touching and reverential, a perfect eulogy to the dark knight of indie blues/Americana himself. The guitar-work is fabulously freewheeling and beautifully rendered, the keyboardist summoning the spirit of Ray Manzurek, both by being a serious exponent (like Schroeder leaning over his piano in Peanuts) and by playing some delicate, almost wistful touches on those rhythmic major chords. All very classic rock, and in a good way - impassioned and well measured - not a moment of excess.  


Ultimately, the set lasts only as long as it takes to run through the latest album. The brevity of Strand of Oaks' approach to their music is also their strength, a selected precis of the band’s professional capabilities with no padding.


Although there are no specific musical parallels, for some preternatural reason, Springsteen’s 'Glory Days' came to mind. I thought of the joy of that song, and the reflectiveness of the lyrics in recalling life’s affirming moments. I think perhaps that the idiosyncratic American ‘down home’ vibe is the answer, a shared communion of great rock n roll for the people, about the people.


A wonderful, epiphanic first headlining gig.

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