Strand of Oaks were full-hearted and full of laughs as they closed out Wednesday night on the PRX stage. The Philadelphia-based guitar rockers and longtime WXPN favorites opened their hearts for the NonCOMM crowd during a sparkling set consisting mostly of material from their stellar new album Eraserland, which came out in March on Dead Oceans.
Frontman and songwriter Timothy Showalter was plenty sentimental but full of smiles. “I turn my back to the meaning of life,” he crooned in the first verse of “Weird Ways,” their set opener and the opening track on Eraserland. Showalter’s voice was warm and bright, exposed and occasionally quivering underneath high echoes of slide guitar. He displayed his kinship with other poetic frontmen like Adam Granduciel of The War On Drugs and Matt Houck of Phosphorescent — who performed a touching solo set of Phosphorescent material on the first day of NonCOMM. Throughout the Strand of Oaks set, Showalter’s face remained almost totally in shadows underneath the wide brim of his hat.
Once the drums started thundering and waves of synths began to crash at the end of “Weird Ways,” the set became something more like full-bodied folk rock from the heartland. Gleaming three-part harmonies rose to the surface during the outro — “There are colors in the places you can’t find.”
As Showalter introduced the band’s biggest hit, “Goshen ’97,” he recalled one of his favorite moments from the last decade. “I guess this is the first song of mine I ever heard on the radio, and it was one of the best experiences of my life. I’ll never forget it. So if you know it, help us sing it.” The song describes Showalter’s memories of beginning to make music as a teenager in his hometown of Goshen, Indiana. “I was lonely but I was having fun!” he cried out during every pre-chorus.
Strand of Oaks stretched out many of their selections to make room for jamming and imagining, even though they were only scheduled to play a thirty-minute set. As usual, they made sure to enjoy every moment on stage to the fullest — they never rush. “If you know anything about this band, a half an hour is pretty tough for us to do,” Showalter admitted after fading out the end of “Ruby.” “That’s usually about one song,” he chuckled.
Showalter’s songs make it clear that he lives how he plays, too: holding onto every moment. “It’s easy to let your life slip away,” he lamented on “Keys,” another Eraserland track, which featured slide guitar at its most melancholy and Showalter’s voice at its most wistful. He dedicated this song to his wife, Sue.
My favorite moment came after midnight, after Strand of Oaks were already supposed have finished their set. “So, the good folks at NonCOMM said that we can play a little bit longer,” Showalter announced with a grin. “We did this one a few days ago and dedicated this to a very dear friend of mine. Someone who’s changed my life for the better and I’m so happy and I’m so proud of him, and it’s just so good to see him …” He trailed off but then continued, almost broken up, “We’re gonna do this one for my dear friend Bruce Warren — let’s give Bruce Warren a big round of applause. The world’s a better place ’cause you’re here, Bruce, and we love you, so we’re gonna do this one for you. And we’ll burn it a little extra long for NonCOMM.”
To Bruce, the WXPN host and programming director, Strand of Oaks dedicated their last song of the night, “Forever Chords,” which burned for twelve minutes. The NonCOMM crowd stuck with them late into the night. “I hope it never ends,” Showalter sang over and over again.