"They are like the musical equivalent to a murmuration of starlings; truly majestic!"
It's a nice little surprise to walk into QPAC's Concert Hall tonight and find that The Necks will be performing in a reduced-capacity layout of the room — the intimacy of this setup really lending itself to their musical meditations. Instead of facing the main auditorium, they are turned to face an audience seated on choir retractables at the back of the stage, with small balcony sections opened on either side. A black backing curtain closes the space off creating a boxed-in effect, and a number of vintage spherical filament bulbs hang above The Necks' heads, bringing a subtle touch of luminous warmth into the cosy space.
Chris Abrahams initiates the first of two sets, summoning a delicate melody from his piano. Lloyd Swanton falls in suit, gently fiddling his double bass. Tony Buck follows with some faint, sliding movements, circling the top of a cymbal. They linger in a liminal space, which feels like it's balancing between the thresholds of presence and absence, for some time. Buck progresses to sliding a hand cymbal back-and-forth across his floor tom, creating a deeply ominous undertone, and in these moments it sounds as if they are breaching into another space, inviting visions of an abstracted kind of black lodge, where form is more spectral. They make a subtle transition out of this zone, gaining rhythmic momentum as they chart a course forward through cyclic motions. They sound as if they are multiplying in number as their oscillating patterns become increasingly more frenzied, and by the time they well and truly reach flight they are like the musical equivalent to a murmuration of starlings; truly majestic!
Swanton initiates the second set, with the others hot on his trail — it's quite bewildering just how different it is from the get-go. Rarely do they take off with the kind of rolling-start momentum such as this. It's The Necks at their funkiest and most upbeat; something you can really groove to, if only for a brief moment before they transmute into something else entirely with utmost grace. The live experience this three-piece offers is something far beyond that of typical improvisational sets. It's as if their method of repetition-through-minimal-movements challenges the very foundations of music. Linear time becomes somewhat displaced as their compositions seemingly move through a perpetually repeating, amorphic present. It is as if the moment is always happening again, both different and the same, and the dichotomy of dualities such as past and future feel as though they collapse under the weight of this ever repeating, shifting present. Illusive and resistant toward any attempts to fully grasp at them, each moment of these compositions are an exercise in letting go. Like any band, they no doubt have their on and off nights, but they can only ever be completely on when the listener has surrendered themselves to both the music's curious, child-like playfulness and its deep, meditative reflection. And if the looks on audience faces at the conclusion of the second set are anything to go by, tonight they were on for many.