Funny thing about concerts on this campus: the real gems usually tend not to be the major winter or spring shows, but rather the smaller shows that are either dirt cheap or better yet, completely free.
Such was the case with Saturday’s Yellowjacket Weekend performers, Good Old War. From the onset it was clear that this was going to be a show very much unlike most of the music acts brought to the University over the last couple years.
The most striking thing about Good Old War — before they even started playing — was their unique instrumentation and setup. At stage right was keyboardist Keith Goodwin. But when I say “keyboard,” I don’t mean your traditional synth or piano; he was playing on some sort of soundboard that looked like something you’d find covered in dust and cobwebs while cleaning out your grandfather’s attic. Goodwin’s keyboard playing mostly stayed in a lower register than the rest of the band, allowing him to take the place of a bassist, which Good Old War does without.
Drummer and accordion player (bet you’ve never seen those two instruments played at the same time before) Tim Arnold took center stage, and he had the most unconventional setup of the three. He played the entire show standing up, with his drums set up so low that it looked like he was playing on a Fischer Price kit.
On a trap stand with his accordion were several other percussion toys, including brushes, a tambourine and a maraca, which he used as a drumstick during one of the songs.
Guitarist Dan Schwartz was to his left, with his four acoustic-electric guitars and one electric — which was attached to a mic stand — in tow.
The band’s instruments — all of which appeared pretty well beaten up — are worth noting because, in many ways, they reflect Good Old War’s music itself. It’s as if the trio had found a bunch of old instruments lying around their homes in the midwest (they’re from Philadelphia, but certainly don’t sound like they would be) and decided to start making music with what they had. Their sound is a collision of folk and big-city influences, and the resulting mix is a sort of bluesy, country indie rock. Some way or another, though, they just seem to make it work.
The band’s vocals fit well with their generally upbeat, bopping sound — the three members sang in harmony most of the time, which only added to the sense of homey bluegrass surrounding Good Old War’s music.
No single member’s voice had a particularly beautiful sound or texture, but the band more than made up for this by keeping those harmonies nicely in tune throughout the show — particularly impressive in the day’s near-90-degree heat.
One of the aspects of Good Old War’s live show that worked particularly well was their ability to highlight a musical element that you’d normally take for granted, and, because they so frequently feature the unconventional over the expected, make it really stand out.
Take their performance of “Weak Man” for instance; the song featured a solid blues-inspired guitar solo, but it popped much more than your average electric guitar solo, in part because Schwartz had mainly been juggling between his array of acoustic guitars up until that point. In the same song, something as simple as featuring a solo vocalist (Goodwin in this case) became a neat element when juxtaposed against the harmonies that the band had been pulling off for most of the show.
Something about Good Old War’s music has a very personal, approachable feel to it, and the trio’s crowd interaction certainly reflected that. For their encore performance, they took one guitar, came down from the stage and played “That’s What’s Wrong,” as the crowd circled around them.
With Schwartz always smiling and Arnold on the verge of laughing at himself for his vocal rendition of an electric guitar part, it was just the way you’d hope and expect a band like Good Old War would end a show.
Props to UR Concerts for bringing this somewhat unconventional act to UR. If you didn’t make it out to the show, I definitely recommend that you check Good Old War out if the opportunity presents itself.
Fleming is a member of the class of 2013.