Paul Reed Smith Band Blends Genres Smoothly at Concert

By Jeremy Quintin
Staff Columnist

This past Friday, the Paul Reed Smith Band, also known as the PRS Band, performed out on Martha Washington Square for Fall Family Weekend. Having returned to Chestertown numerous times in the past 10 or so years, it is just recently that the band has come to perform twice right on our campus. Rarely does a rock band with this level of expertise waltz into our particular college, and the sound which filled the air that night could not have made a clearer affirmation.

But before reviewing their latest show, let’s have a little backstory about the main man in question, Paul Reed Smith. A native of Bowie, Smith is the founder of PRS guitars, a leading manufacturer in the electric guitar industry. Smith also designs and builds his own guitars, which have laid the foundation for his company’s production lines.

He now spreads the PRS sound by touring in his self-titled band with bassist Gary Grainger, drummer Greg Grainger, guitarist Mike Ault, and vocalist Mia Samone Davis. A number of guest musicians will also join with the band for a particularly spectacular performance. This performance included the wizard fingers of keyboardist Benjie Porecki, and Smith’s own son on the second drum set.

The performance put together by the PRS Band illustrated an extraordinary comprehension by each performer in identifying every part of a full composition. Anyone could pick out the direction of everyone else’s instruments and determine which way they should direct their own playing within the bigger picture of the song. Though certainly practiced off stage, the quick attention to detail present in the ensemble made for an ad-lib performance like no other.

No better example of this could be found than in the opening improvisation, when Smith challenged the band to mimic the musical culture of any city. It was usually the case that their abilities were the best, as Grainger and Ault’s fretboards flew the jazz of New York City seamlessly across the country and down into the blues of Chicago.

Each band member also received his or her own solo. Porecki’s performance was particularly outstanding, as his mesh of funk and jazz piano rifts licked the keys with such fast precision and complexity that his hands may very well have transformed into shears, and a single wrong move might have sent his fingers flying off the keyboard rather than across it.

Unfortunately, no set of artists can play the perfect show. At times Porecki would choose to hold high notes for absurdly long lenghts of time, which from sustained listening becomes quite annoying. The sound transforms into more of a buzzing nuisance than a musical note.

Smith also has a habit of breaking during songs to talk, which became detrimental to the focus of the music. Sometimes intermittent talking made sense, such as with the cities sequence. More often than not though, Smith’s quick quips took away from the continuity, fragmenting the otherwise fantastic musical performance. Much of what he said was unnecessary, as describing Grainger and Ault’s unique method of playing together was already clarified by their more harmonious voices.

Besides these issues and the minor technical difficulty of a kick drum breaking, the night was a great experience. What made the performance so impressive to me is that they clearly understood the importance of balancing instruments during a live set. Instead of trying to make the sound as loud as possible, each instrument was given the adequate voice needed to be heard, so that Ault could play his guitar with as much clarity as Davis could belt out an epic verse. Not many bands can keep this balance during a live set, making the PRS band truly impressive.

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