Starry Night: FNO All-Stars live at CIEM’s annual fest, “Celsius 2019”

The unique distinction that “Friday Night Originals” (FNO) holds is that all the musicians who have featured under its banner are all part of a closely-knit community who strive tirelessly to keep the fire of original music burning bright.

FNO’s founder, Durjoy Choudhury, was hit upon by an idea of promoting the brightest stars of FNO’s roster as a supergroup, back in 2018, when a request came in from Jadavpur University’s Faculty of Engineering and Technology Student’s Union (FETSU) to have a performance for Sanskriti 2018. Thus, “FNO All-Stars” was born. 

A fluid, cohesive organism, FNO All-Stars went on to rock stages and open-air theaters alike for two anthemic editions at Jadavpur University, Calcutta, and now was ready for its third edition at Calcutta Institute of Engineering and Management (CIEM) for their annual fest, Celsius 2019.

As a result of which, I landed up at the homely grounds of CIEM on April 14th, 2019, expectant of great things and new beginnings.

After getting through a thorough security-check, I navigated my way through poorly-lit potholed thoroughfares to the sprawling concert grounds of CIEM where a fashion show was in full-swing. Students who prepared for weeks to present a carefully curated exhibition of their most convincing attires and poses and braved inhibitions to walk for a few meters to a crowd of attentive eyes and approving whoops and cheers.

I waited, strolling around the unremarkable grounds with clumps of college students in high-spirits here and there, while the fashion show, the flagship event, was in the vicinity of completion, with the choruses of ‘Believer’ and ‘Apna Time Ayega’ becoming too monotonous.

The lusty crowd soon scattered after the fashion show and I managed to get standing space right in front of the stage.

On the dot of seven o’ clock, the scheduled time, the band took stage. Light was shined on two glorious drum-kits, perched on drum-risers, glittering their rhythmic oomph, on a Korg behemoth awaiting synthesized sonicity, on a stack of gilded Marshalls, Fenders, Hartkes and Rolands.

Premjit Dutta. FNO All Stars live at C.I.E.M Celcius 2019.
Photograph courtesy – Anushree Bhatter

Gaurab Chatterjee and Premjit Dutta sat on their thrones, sticks at the ready. Aakash Ganguly strapped on his bass, ready to dish out those sweet, sculptural rhythms and licks. Nabarun Bose keyed in an agreeable sound and polished his sonic ammunition, good to go. Bodhisattwa Ghosh and Subhagata Singha, in a friendly face-off, tuned up their instruments of mass construction.

Silence descended on the middling crowd, as it was wont to do moments before the foreclosure of due epicness.

And then, it began.

Aakash Ganguly and Bodhisattwa Ghosh. FNO All Stars live at C.I.E.M Celcius 2019.
Photograph courtesy – Anushree Bhatter

Aakash Ganguly played the starting few notes of ‘Seven Nation Army’ and a collective cheer swept its way through CIEM. For the next four and-a-half minutes, the ground shook under the feet of stomps and the very air reverberated with primordial sing-alongs and the world was reduced to a blurry mess of hair and sweat as Paloma belted out the lyrics in her signature sassy ‘devil-may-care’ attitude.

Paloma Majumdar and Aakash Ganguly.
FNO All Stars live at C.I.E.M Celcius 2019.
Photograph courtesy – Anushree Bhatter

This got the ball rolling as the band made short work of ‘Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door’ (with Durjoy on salt-of-the-earth vocal and acoustic guitar duty), a thought-provoking original piece by Bodhisattwa titled ‘0305’, where the licks were traded off and exchanged by the axemen, Rivu and Bodhi with elan as befitting the purveyors of dulcet tones.

The clear crowd-favourite, Gaurab Chatterjee (or ‘Gaboo’, as he is affectionately called), relinquished his throne for a moment and joined the band in a riveting rendition of the Nirvana classic ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’.

I was having a grand, old time, singing along to all the songs in the crisp summer air, when the first hint of trouble reared its head.

It started when Bodhi channeled the spirit of a Mr. Edward van Halen and put a lit cigarette between the strings on the headstock of the guitar and proceeded to shred the frets off it. The clouds parted to reveal a sliced moon and the first heckler opened fire.

A substantial part of the article will be about the crowd and the entitlement of the same.

A section of the audience was quite displeased with the choice of songs and the absence of Bollywood tunes and the ‘excess’ of original music and ‘English songs’.

Nabarun Bose.
FNO All Stars live at C.I.E.M Celcius 2019.
Photograph courtesy – Anushree Bhatter

Some took every opportunity to scream out slander and catcalls at the musicians on stage. The general atmosphere was quite unsuitable for a set of this quality and quite unsafe, if I may say so. Some of them even sat down on the grass in a ‘dharna’ style, chanting slogans demanding ‘Bollywood music’.

Still, the musicians shouldered on and played through their set, undaunted and tried to make light of the situation with some jokes, but to no avail. Some got angry and started trash-talking the audience, but that was understandable.

A small section of the organizers and volunteers crashed onto the rails, at the front, and threatened the musicians at regular intervals with the foulest of language imaginable and a confrontational attitude.

The thorough security checks and the multitude of bouncers were all powerless in the face of this age-old adversity of ‘free speech’ and entitlement.

Bad business aside, the band served up their version of ‘Smoke on the Water’ with Bodhi on the vocals, which was eminently singalongable and whose memorable riff could be heard up to the mountains of Montreux.

Gaurab Chatterjee. FNO All Stars live at C.I.E.M Celcius 2019.
Photograph courtesy – Anushree Bhatter

The other covers included the Hendrix/Dylan rocker ‘All Along the Watchtower’ sung by Durjoy, the Bob Marley classic ‘Ganja Gun’ sung by Gaboo and the Pink Floyd staple ‘Comfortably Numb’, sung by Bodhi which quelled the Bollywood rebellion and made everybody sink back into a more agreeable and mellow groove.

Now for the originals. Paloma sang her hit song ‘Hold On (or Let it Go)’, part of her collaborations with Adil Rashid, a breezy number which perfectly encapsulated the versatility of her voice, from grungey headbangers to sophisticated ballads.

Rivu performed his foot-tapping instrumental piece called ‘Madly in Crush’. It was insanely groovy and really well-composed. Bodhi and Rivu traded solos to the adulation of the come-around crowd. One of the highlights of the night, for sure.

Bodhi took charge next and let loose an esoteric jazz piece titled ‘Transcendence’, which was quite pleasant, actually. But, of course, it didn’t bode well with the crowd and for obvious reasons. If Smoke on the Water fails to woo someone, hardcore jazz hardly will.

Durjoy and Paloma. FNO All Stars live at C.I.E.M Celcius 2019.
Photograph courtesy – Anushree Bhatter

Of course, the number of originals was a tad bit too low for me, considering it’s under the banner of Friday Night Originals, but I think that was intentional, considering the venue. Nevertheless, a sound music concert is about compromise both on the part of the musician and the listener.

Coming to the musicians themselves, Gaboo and Premjit are veterans of the scene and did nothing less than was expected of them; thorough entertainers, both of them with musical acumen to back that up; very cool runs and beats throughout.

FNO All Stars live at C.I.E.M Celcius 2019.
Photograph courtesy – Aditya Chowdhury

Rivu was the youngest among the lot and was the one to look out for, his phrasing and tone are some of the best I’ve seen in a long time; a musical genius, akin to Guthrie Govan, if I’ve ever seen one.

Aakash Ganguly reinforces my belief of ‘bassists are doing the toughest job onstage ’, each time I see him perform. His chops are extraordinary and they truly color the sound in a unique manner.

Durjoy is one of the finest embodiments of the maxim ‘less is more’. His acoustic guitar is all he needs to make hearts melt and ears prick up.

Paloma Majumder is one of the most versatile vocalists in Calcutta. From nailing down the West Coast USA inflections to the pop lisps, she can do it all.

Nabarun Bose, in a word, is a beast. His variety was quite staggering as well, shifting between a demure, so to speak, avatar of organ player and keyboardist a la Jon Lord and Keith Emerson with his spectacles on to a Zack de la Rocha rap rocker avatar with his spectacles off with fluid ease; a veritable Clark Kent/Superman of keyboard.

Bodhisattwa Ghosh. FNO All Stars live at C.I.E.M Celcius 2019.
Photograph courtesy – Ayushi Guha

And last, but certainly not the least, Bodhisattwa Ghosh. His presence in the mix may be lacking and his tone could use some fattening up, but he is a virtuoso player. From jazz to reggae to rock and metal, he misses nothing. The image of him, sucking away on a cigarette, while improvising over Comfortably Numb, will be burned into my brain for a long, long time.

Well, all said and done, my first outing to FNO All-Stars was a memorable experience. I shall certainly be looking forward to the next iteration with greater expectations from the audience and shall be trusting them to know a little bit more about the musicians and the type of music they play.

FNO All Stars live at C.I.E.M Celcius 2019.
Photograph courtesy – Ayushi Guha

About the author:
Annway Ghosh, 18, is a music enthusiast who likes to partake in the occasional trivial pursuit and guitar noodle. He lives in Kolkata.

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