Review and photos by Derek Miles
What began as an impromptu performance during a Denver blizzard in 2006, has now become an annual tradition for the group of musicians known as PRAANG. When Steve Kimock was the only one of his bandmates to arrive for a gig before the storm hit, a last minute call recruited the talents of the String Cheese Incident’s Michael Travis and Jason Hann, along with renowned hammer dulcimer player Jamie Janover. Now, every year since the spontaneous inception of the group, PRAANG plays a few shows a year- almost exclusively in Denver.
Formerly Bender’s Tavern, the new home of Quixote’s True Blue (as of last November) hosted two nights of PRAANG for the first weekend of January 2013. Both shows featured strong and inspired performances. The group’s shows were almost entirely improvised; with the exception of some hand signals from Travis to indicate a change of rhythm or groove, every shift was a springboard for exploration.
Each set the band played was continuous; unfolding into a stream of consciousness with segues and subtle permutations into a variety of musical realms. Although meandering at some points, the music always offered something for each listener’s attention.
The group is a prime example of a successful balancing act between both the electronic and instrumental schools of thought. Fusing the two styles together in a live and improvisational setting is often attempted but rarely achieved in such a caliber that PRAANG has developed. However, the quality of the music reflects the tremendous talent of the individual musicians, especially considering that they only play together one time a year.
Their first show on Friday seemed to be more of a warm-up. It was no slouch and contained plenty of highlights, but there were also moments where the band didn’t gel as well as they could have. Janover’s dulcimer was quite low in the mix, and being the only musician with an acoustic instrument (other than Kimock’s hollow-body Gibson guitar), Janover’s contributions were sometimes overpowered by the electricity of the other three players. Other than a few sound issues, the music was incredibly well played.
They established a high standard early on Friday for every subsequent set of the weekend. It was apparent from the start that Kimock did not show up to mess around. I have never come across a musician more wholly invested in the experience of live music than Kimock. He is almost always the first and last player to leave the stage; sometimes fifteen to twenty minutes before or after his cohorts. Preparation and departure are treated equally as important and never rushed, with no abrupt transitions. Kimock is calm, cool, and one hell of a guitar player.
Along with the cosmic exploration of Kimock’s playing was the rhythmic duo of Travis and Hann. Travis alternated throughout the show from bass guitar to keys and various synthesizers and other electronics, while Hann held down the drum kit and occasional vocals. Janover’s dulcimer added a mystical and delicate lilt to the rest of the music; an increasingly unique instrument which sadly, is rare to many ears.
By the second night, it was clear that everyone in the band was settled in. Janover’s dulcimer had been adjusted and the sound was improved from the night before. As a result, Janover came into the fold and was able to influence the musical direction of the group more so than the previous night.
While most of the improvisation was piloted by Kimock during the first performance, the second night was a more even spread. The music took on an organic evolution which seemed to crackle with energy as the evening progressed. The crowd was undeniably electrified by the enormous waves of sound crashing against their eardrums. Energy flowed from the stage to the audience and back again in a transformative exchange of activity. Since the only pause occurred during set break, the music seemed to have passed all the more quickly. Almost as soon as the night had begun, the time came for last call and bids of goodnight.
Ephemeral was the nature of the weekend. Tickets purchased in anticipation of the festivities had become stubs on the floor or creased paper in someone’s back pocket. PRRANG arrived almost as soon as they took their leave. However, all good things must end; including good music. Until next year, (hopefully).
A recording of the first show can be found here: Steve Kimock Live at Quixote’s True Blue on 2013-01-04 : Free Download & Streaming : Internet Archive