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Strand of Oaks Show A Lighter Side of Dark at First Avenue

10 Aug

By Natalie Gallagher
Photos by Kyle Matteson

“I do shit a little differently,” admitted Timothy Showalter, the man behind the moniker Strand Of Oaks on Monday night. “I write weird songs.”

Indeed, he does—Showalter’s arsenal of creative material spans from songs about space stations to self-created mythology. All these songs are woven into the Strand Of Oaks albums, with their brooding, grand plots and subplots. (A geeky high school kid would have a hell of a time with Showalter’s third studio album, Dark Shores, and Sparknotes would have a lengthy entry on it). And Showalter’s singular, heartbreaking voice—a voice that can sound as gorgeously lonely against a background of synths as it does with an acoustic guitar—is suited perfectly for his exquisite lyrics.

Showalter sings about the end of the world on the sparse “Maureen’s,” which he said was actually a Pennsylvania ice cream parlor where he had his first date with his wife:

“I wonder where you live now
Did you find, the highest ground
The clean air will keep you breathing
My luck here, keeps changing

And your parents, they never left
There’s nothing familiar here now
I go back to check for signs
Remember Maureen’s, in the summer time”

In real life, Showalter is happily married—though far be it for him to limit his imagination. It’s much better for the listener that Showalter casts himself on a lone island floating somewhere in the universe, the last guitarman standing, a folk singer-songwriter for the post-apocalypse.

It’s easy to picture Showalter as a reclusive, weird music nerd with a huge stockpile of vintage video games—the sort of songwriting genius that would never be able to connect with a live audience. The way Showalter appears on stage with a massive, thick beard and elbow-length hair suggests that perception isn’t far off. It’s very easy to imagine a man who would do much better in a studio, in his own little box—and it’s one hundred percent wrong. At First Avenue on Monday night, as Showalter warmed up the crowd for headliner The Tallest Man On Earth, Showalter was humble, effusive, and absolutely magnetic.

“I know I kinda look like a homeless guy and I get a little sweaty,” said Showalter towards the end of his set, “but we’ll be back at the merch table afterwards, and we’ll have some CDs available, but more importantly, we really just want to say hello.”

It’s tempting, really, to knock down the earnestness and humility that Showalter exudes as prescribed, but you get the chilling feeling, watching him perform, that this guy really means it. That as he’s looking across the sold-out room at First Avenue (and a good amount of TTMOE fans, oddly, had turned up early enough to catch the opener), he truly is humbled and grateful, and when he thanks Kristian (of TTMOE) for the opportunity, he really means it.

And then, after all, Showalter is probably the only guy you want on the soundtrack for the post-apocolyptic world. He’s the only one you’d trust to do it justice.

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