Nikhil and Telepathy | 10.30.03 | The Mint | Los Angeles, CA

Music can be about a lot of things, but at it's purest, it's about having a good time. Nikhil and Telepathy, two Los Angeles bands that deserve a closer look, recently provided the best of times at the cozy and great sounding Mint.

Nikhil combines a wide array of influences for a groove that can't be denied. There were distinct moments when songs from artists like The Allman Brothers, Paul Simon and the Grateful Dead were riffed into, around and through each other to create a mishmash of enjoyable music that was always familiar, but fresh.

The gregarious Nikhil is the front man, namesake and bandleader, but you can call him Nikhi. All of his friends do, and when you meet Nikhi, you'll be his friend too. While the players are each outstanding, it is Nikhi's warm persona that drives the band and connects with the audience. He does a Dave Matthews shuffle, and sounds a little bit like O.A.R.'s Marc Roberge, but Nikhi's operatic trained voice has more soul then Roberge or Jason Mraz.

With searching brown eyes, Nikhi smiled constantly, imploring the crowd to enjoy the music. Backed by a dynamic band, his voice ranging from baritone inflexions to tenor exclamations of joy, it was impossible to sit still.

Guitarist Anthony King mixed and matched Allman Brothers riffs with Grateful Dead meanderings with the rousing drumming of Lorca Hart to form a vortex of energy and sound. The other players were outstanding too: Dan Boisy's saxophone flew around the room and Ethan Phillips laid down the bass with visible emotion, while Jack Lees provided percussion in beat with everyone else.

No member simply played the music: they embodied their instruments. Nikhil is not simply an onslaught of solo after solo by each member. The band proved to work as a unit following the energy of the song. While Nikhi leads things, he lets the music happen instead of grabbing the spotlight.

While many in the crowd probably didn't know the source of the inspiration, the songs sounded good and Jerry Garcia and Duane Allman had to share a doobie and a smile up in Music Heaven, celebrating that their inspiration was indirectly affecting people unfamiliar with Live at the Fillmore East or the Closing of the Winterland. Those dancing in front might have never listened to those classic shows, but it really doesn't matter. They were having a moment of pure bliss.

Nikhil's songwriting shows promise. The songs dealt with common themes like growing older and looking for love, but the angst you might expect is replaced with themes of opening up your heart and letting love come inside. Why not?

The individual players are supremely talented and the overall enthusiasm of the band left little to be desired. The experience was epitomized by the facial expressions of Hart, which reflected genuine joy. His feel-good rhythm was rooted in the very essence of each song. Nikhil got my soul grooving before Telepathy rocked my mind and body.

I've seen the band a few times before with varying results, but backed by the Telepathic Brass and the lovely Miss Elyse and in front of a responsive crowd, this show was off the hizzy.

Playful-precision are the best words to describe Todd Lieberman's virtuosic guitar playing. He makes it look easy, and he looks good doing it, but the key to Telepathy is much more than Lieberman simply going off for the entirety of each show, which he could do if he chose to. Each member of Telepathy plays his respective ass off and the musical kinship forged from constant gigging and practice is apparent.

Watching four guys jam onstage with this kind of irreverent energy is the kind of experience that lasts long after the show is over. Like a good movie, you talk about it on the way home, and the next morning at work.

Each member of Telepathy reveals his personality onstage. The zaniness of Frank Zappa and Trey Anastasio influenced Lieberman, the mellow grin of bassist Isaac Slape, the serious concentration balanced with quick nods and smiles from keyboardist Aaron Arntz and the zoned-out hyperactive beat of Kevin Dooley's drums cues the listener into a telepathic zone, and once you are there, you don't want to leave. This connection between fans allowed them to play a two-month residency at The Mint, playing every week for a consistent draw.

I've seen shows when the band played too many lyric driven songs, but this show was balanced perfectly between songwriting and jamming. Lieberman's voice is great, but it's more effective when his guitar is the main attraction. When he picks his places to sing, like on the gem "Rain," his voice soars effortlessly.

The crowd jokingly called out for Phish songs, but the band just grinned and played their own version of jam-rock funk. Arntz showed his versatility when he picked up a trumpet for Dick Dale's "Misirlou."

Stevie Wonder also got his due, but it wasn't "Boogie on Reggae Woman," rather "You Move With Grace," which Lieberman sang very well. God bless Stevie for praising the girls who love to get down.

The Wildfires of 2003 had surrounded the city, canceling the band's gig for the following night in the desert, so Telepathy gave the crowd a little something extra: the band's first Grateful Dead cover in their six year existence. The appropriate "Fire on the Mountain" was done with style and had a life all its own.

When any scene grows, the poseurs seem to always prosper while real artists are ignored. In Los Angeles, where hype is king, bands have to work extra hard to get people out to shows because of the relative distance between venues and competing events on any given night. In this oft-lackluster environment, getting the crowd involved in the show is just as important, and impressive, as playing well.

For L.A. bands, the best option is to share shows and play with bands that they like. This is also a big bonus for fans and when bands like Nikhil and Telepathy team up, they are treated to soul-shaking, spirit-lifting and habit-forming music.

The two bands used the same recipe in the past; Nikhil and Telepathy filled the House of Blues, Sunset Strip with music lovers earlier in the year. Telepathy's two disc live album, which also features the Telepathic Brass, is available from Kufala Recordings.

Words and Images by: Forrest Reda
JamBase | West Coast
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[Published on: 12/1/03]

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