Strand of Oaks rises with new material, message at Arden Gild Hall
Strand of Oaks | photo by Joe del Tufo |

Well Philly, you are in for a treat. But it happened in Delaware first.

The debut of Strand of Oaks‘ new material from the forthcoming Hard Love album happened in a barn in Delaware in front of a crowd that ranged in age from 10 to 70. “This music is for everyone who needs it right now,” frontman Timothy Showalter mentioned before the show. “As much as Heal was pointing inward, Hard Love [points straight out]. It’s an important time for that, we’re not playing around anymore.”

Playing around he was not. After an shockingly good opening set by Oaks guitarist/ keyboardist Jason Anderson, who played entirely off stage and ended on a chair surrounded by the crowd in the middle of the hall. Anderson joined Showalter for the 90 minute main set, a balance of new material and some of the highlights from Heal. The duo were a looser, more dynamic version of Oaks, opening with the shimmering, ethereal “Chill Tent” before turning up the volume for “Plymouth” and “Shut In.” The layers of near whisper quiet gave power to some of the heavier parts of the show, something new for Showalter. The new track “Cry” was catchy but it’s the unexpectedly toe-tapping “Radio Kids” that stood out. It lyrically recalls “Goshen ’97” with lines like “Remember how it felt to listen, fumble and press record/ So play it play it loud on the radio/ I got my headphones on my parents will never know.” It is instantly the band’s most accessible song.

After a suite of new tracks from Hard Love, some even drifting towards progressive rock in places, the live staple “JM” was shifted from the thunderous guitar epic it typically is to an entirely different beast. A guitar conversation between Showalter and Anderson, it rose and fell and finally morphed altogether into it’s lost brother, “Cortez the Killer.” And then “Cortez” wandered into the present as Showalter emoted “He came dancing across the water, Cortez Cortez. He stole our country, Cortez Cortez. He lives in a golden black tower on 5th avenue, Cortez Cortez. He’s trying to pull us apart, we’re gonna take it back, take it back from you Cortez.”

Heal kind of came out of nowhere – a personal, introspective classic that bled emotion. To me it’s one of the top albums of the decade, and a place I revisit often. Hard Love seems like a more balanced affair, examining the dynamic range of the heart, and not shying away from a catchy chorus occasionally. After big tours with Ryan Adams and My Morning Jacket, Strand of Oaks feels like they are about to find themselves on much larger stages. Here’s to hoping the big heart and sound of Oaks rising is heard in 2017.

Setlist, as close as I could get.
Chill Tent
Shut In
Radio Kids
Passing Out
Salt Brothers
Goshen ’97
JM / Cortez The Killer
Wait For Love

Strand of Oaks plays three sold-out shows at Boot & Saddle this weekend.

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