Here at PW, we don’t like to brag, but we would like to politely say that we called it. The headline of a May 2010 PW feature proclaimed that “Good Old War [is] poised for national acclaim.” Though the gently rousing three-piece had a home here in our area, it was time for them to tread larger waters. More than two years later, they’ve hung around on the Billboard charts, played mobs of shows around North America and even appeared on Conan—which, to us, means they’ve made it. Fitting in nicely with other indie folk groups like Fleet Foxes, Okkervil River, Band of Horses and the like, their intricate vocal harmonies have made Good Old War one of the growing darlings of the genre. Having just completed a fall tour with Christian rockers NEEDTOBREATHE and a Canadian tour opening for one-man-band Xavier Rudd, the gang returns to the city Thursday night for their final show of the year.
Good Old War rose from the dissolution of two separate local acts: the country-tinged Unlikely Cowboy and Days Away, a power-pop five-piece. In 2007, celebrating their common love of classic folksters like Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and Simon & Garfunkel, guitarist Dan Schwartz, drummer Tim Arnold and keyboardist Keith Goodwin formed Good Old War using letters from each of their last names: GOODwin, ArnOLD and SchWARtz. Their first big gig was as the backing band for fellow localite Anthony Green of Saosin/Circa Survive fame. It was during this tour that Good Old War began writing the songs that would later make their first album. In addition to playing behind Green, the trio appeared on his 2008 LP, Avalon, making it their studio debut. (They continued their role as a backing band a few years later in Cast Spells, led by Maps & Atlases frontman Dave Davison.)
In November 2008, Good Old War’s debut album, Only Way to Be Alone, was released to positive reviews in Philly media. Featuring future fan favorites like “Weak Man” and “Coney Island,” their recorded output and the reactions to their live performances led to the build-up of an impressive hometown following, and by the time they released their self-titled sophomore effort in 2010, their fan base had grown scores beyond Philadelphia. Good Old War features even more of their pretty vocal stylings with an extra bit of country flair, along with an even punchier focus on rhythm. It also contains “Woody’s Hood Boogie Woogie,” which is not only a great song title, but according to Arnold, is one of his favorite songs to play live. “The guys gave me a drum solo in that one,” he told Audio Arsenal, “so I like it for obvious reasons.”
The group’s intense touring schedule over the following two years only strengthened their renowned tightness as a live unit. (“Nobody has ever messed up the harmonies on stage,” Schwartz told American Songwriter. “Keith has messed up the words ... I’m sure we’ve all messed up the words.”) I saw them play at the second annual—and apparently, last annual—Philly FM Fest outside at Northern Liberties’ Ukie Club in 2011. Schwartz played acoustic guitar throughout the whole show, although on a few tunes, he would play a guitar solo on an electric guitar held up on a stand. And while practical, it is also one of the least bad-ass ways to bust out a guitar solo.
Earlier this March, Come Back As Rain was released to the best reviews for Good Old War to date, as well as their best-selling, reaching No. 1 on the Billboard Heatseekers chart. The ever-luminous pop that fills the album is the perfect entry point into the gang’s catalog, especially the high-flying choruses of “Better Weather” and the strangely upbeat “Present for the End of the World.”
For a local band to attempt to hit it big on a grander scale, it’s always a bit of a crapshoot, as is almost any aspect of the music business. Fortunately, with Good Old War, we have three talented guys to go forth and represent our city. So, to them—like true Philadelphians—we say: Do us proud or we’ll hate you forever.
Thurs., Dec. 20, 8pm. $20. With Vacationer. Theatre of the Living Arts, 334 South St. 215.922.1011. tlaphilly.com