Mike Donovan, Katterwaul, Sutcliffe Catering Co., Hermanitos; Topaz, Oct. 14

Shortly after learning of the unexpected passing of beloved Arizona musician Amy Ross, one half of Nowhere Man and a Whiskey Girl, on Monday morning, I arrived at Topaz, deeply troubled. With the shock and confusion that comes from a friend’s sudden death, my experience watching and listening to the four acts that performed played out as a microcosm of the cycle of grief.

Hermanitos started off promising, with fun and simple songs played in a ramshackle manner. About halfway through, the quartet coalesced into the type of boogie-rock reminiscent of Ten Years After or other artists found on Freedom Rock compilations. Whether that’s good or bad is subjective, but Hermanitos’ emotional commitment to their music appeared questionable, and they closed with aimless faux-psychedelic jamming.

Sutcliffe Catering Co. followed, and their fusion of electronic and organic instruments created, at least for me, a safe environment for reflection. Their songs were emotionally resonant, in a variety of ways, and the electronically treated vocals and instruments intertwined in a harmony bordering on the spiritual. Through Sutcliffe Catering Co.’s evocation of the infinite, I entered a space where the past, present, and future were occurring simultaneously, with the band’s gorgeous sounds resulting in a sensation of being psychologically at home. Though there were occasional equipment failures, it didn’t derail the performance. It enhanced it by representing the fragile nature of the human experience.

Katterwaul, the one-woman band of Brittany Katter, was total catharsis. Howling the blues, accompanied by her own raw guitar playing, and stomping a bass drum with her foot, Katter displayed fearless and fearsome naked emotion, and her set ripped my guts out when I needed it most.

Closing out the night was Mike Donovan, formerly of psych-rockers Sic Alps. A usual move following the breakup of a band is the singer-songwriter period. Donovan did this, but he played the kind of meditative – and jovial – songs found on the Velvet Underground’s third album; songs that yearn for some kind of redemption and joy after gazing too long into darkness. His beautiful voice, and the muted guitar and percussion of his group, provided a perfect shelter, and temporary resolution, from the profound horror of death.

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