Sublime, Impassioned Oldschool Soul from the War and Treaty

by delarue

What crazy person would walk out during the best song of the War and Treaty’s ecstatic, joyous, redemptive set in front of a packed house at the Rockwood Tuesday night?

Keep going and you’ll find out. It’s ugly. And that’s too bad, because the music was sublime.

Pianist Michael Trotter and his singer wife Tanya front this oldschool soul unit. Imagine Ike & Tina Turner without the abuse (hard to do, but just try). Built like a linebacker, Michael sings with a gritty, impassioned delivery, so forcefully that his voice creates overtones that crackle through the mix…until he goes way, way up with a literally breathtaking falsetto. Tanya is a powerful singer in her own right: you can tell that she’s immersed herself in Aretha Franklin and other icons from the 60s but doesn’t rip them off. Throughout the set, the two traded lines, and verses, and harmonized, and backed each other up with a near-telepathic chemistry. They could have gone on for twice as long as their roughly fifty minutes onstage and the crowd still would have wanted more.

Trotter may have a hurricane for a voice, but he doesn’t overuse it. Likewise, he played with restraint, clearly a good influence on the rest of the band. The guitarist got only two chances to cut loose with solos, and went for jagged grit rather than metal excess. Likewise, the organist stuck to vast, gospel-influenced chords and washes of sound over a tight, purposeful rhythm section who earned comparisons to the Dap-Kings. The War and Treaty are a time warp straight from 1969. It’s like the hippie excesses of the 70s and the cheesiness afterward never happened.

Even the closest thing in the set to a straight-up rock song, The Healing Tide – the title track from the band’s forthcoming album – echoed the Beatles rather than anything more recent. The rest of the material would start slowly and slowly gather momentum, up to big, stomping choruses that would often suddenly recede again, or stop cold. This kept the audience on their toes – and they loved it.

There’s a bittersweet backstory here. As a soldier in Iraq during the Bush/Cheney war, Michael Trotter wrote his first song on Sadaam Hussein’s piano…or one of them. Trotter was clearly scarred by his wartime experience. In a lengthy address to the audience before the night’s final number, he articulated a fierce commitment to working to bring people together regardless of race…and then entreated everybody to turn to the person next to them and give them a big hug.

Now why would anybody leave during the power, and glory, and passion of the band’s final, majestic anthem? Because the MTA was about to shut down the F train. On one hand, it was great to see such a great turnout for the band, even if the big Rockwood room is only the size of a small club. Let’s just hope everyone got home ok afterward rather than having to go to a plan B or plan C that might not have worked any better than the F that night. Wonder why so many music venues are closing all over town?

The War and Treaty tour continues; lucky Denver residents can see them on August 8 at 9 PM at Globe Hall at 4483 Logan St. Cover is $20.