Falu’s Bollywood Orchestra Plays a Mighty, Ecstatic, Sold-Out Dance Party at Flushing Town Hall

by delarue

By the end of the sold-out, marathon concert by Falu’s Bollywood Orchestra Saturday night at Flushing Town Hall, the back balcony was shaking. Downstairs was a sea of ecstatic, twirling, dancing bodies, as diverse a mix of demographics as can be found in this multicultural city. Just another example of how great music – and a great band – bring people from all cultures of the world together.

Which makes sense. Bollywood music typically blends Indian folk and classical themes with American rock. Yet the most riveting moments, in a night full of them, might have been when the group’s frontwoman – widely considered to be the most captivating singer in all of Indian music – vocalised an entire sitar solo, including the rapidfire coda, with all its wavery microtonal nuance, in an original raga that she’d written in 13/8 time.

A lot of south Asian women sing in a chirpy high soprano, and while Falu can reach for the rafters, she distinguishes herself with a breathtaking mezzo-soprano, with diamond clarity and diamond-cutting power. That would explain why baritone crooner/harmonium player Gaurav Shah would be charged with handling many of the show’s gentler ballads. Soumya Chatterjee spiced several of the songs with his precise, fluttering violin lines when he wasn’t playing acoustic guitar, often with a funky edge. His electric counterpart Bryan Vargas shifted between hypnotic jangle, a little fiery bluesmetal, reverbtoned surf riffage and on one number, he ran his axe through a guitar sitar patch. Bassist Dan Asher and drummer Ray Grappone delivered a pulse that was often ecstatic and terse at the same time while the group’s musical director and percussionist, Deep Singh, added color and stomp, beginning with his big dhol drum slung over his shoulders, then switching to his tabla. Several of the numbers also featured a lush string quartet – violinists Pala Garcia and Jennifer Choi, violist Elzbieta Weyman and cellist John Popham.

The group opened with a spare, otherworldly ballad, then a slinky, swaying bellydance number. Interestingly, their take of the stoner classic Dum Maro Dum (“Take Another Hit”) brought to mind the rather stark, spare original rather than more psychedelic versions that artists have done since the 70s. The material spanned from the middle ages – a new arrangement of a classic raga – through the 60s to the 90s. There were a couple of numbers with a shuffling 70s disco groove, and a handful where the band segued from one into another. A couple of sultry, stomping guy/girl duets explored the battle of the sexes. Gaurav Shah sang elegantly on a swaying Indian take on 70s British chamber pop, and a dusky 1974 folk-rock ballad, But as humble as Falu came across – “I’m always playing with people who are better than me,” she marveled – her voice was spine-tingling, shifting in a split-second from microtonal grace, to smoky sensuality, stratospheric upward flights and raw monsoon power.

There was also a dance interlude midway through the show where Falu grabbed her mic and ran down from the stage to twirl amid the audience, joined by her nimble duo of dancers, to get the rest of the crowd on their feet. That didn’t take much prompting – and foreshadowed the evening’s delirious windup.

Flushing Town Hall features the same kind of programming you see at Joe’s Pub, but better. And it’s way less expensive – and the 1862 auditorium has a charming Gilded Age New York ambience. They do all sorts of multicultural events here. The next big show here is on March 31 at 7 PM, with the amazing, epic Korean folk-improvisation ensemble Jeong Gak Ah Hoe; admission is free with rsvp. Then on  April 9 at 8 PM there’s a triplebill with oldtimey Appalachian Whitetop Mountain Band, clawhammer banjo player Julie Shepherd-Powell and singer Sandy Shortridge. Tix are $16/10 stud.