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Live Review: The Necks

12 June 2017 | 4:09 pm | Christopher H James

"The music that The Necks make defies genre pigeonholing."

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In the big, bad world of music writing, few bands are as hard to review as The Necks.

The reason: every single performance is a 100% improvised piece of music without a name. Further, the music that The Necks make defies genre pigeonholing, relying on some jazz elements, classical sensibilities and other obscure notions. Not exactly renowned for onstage banter, they’re probably the last band in the world that would ask us whether we're ready to rock, and probably all the better for it as, at the start of the evening's first performance — their shows are often two performances with a short-ish intermission — their pause to silently focus into the zone had a palpable effect on the crowd.

Under the ice-blue and Inca-gold spotlights, Tony Buck opened with some gently hypnotic cymbal work, followed by some gorgeous legato from Chris Abrahams on keys. The mood changed as Lloyd Swanton’s high, nagging bass line developed into a low, swooping riff that seemed to command the others to progressively push the intensity. Abrahams, in particular, was entrancing as his notes flowed in patterns like water, creating a trance-inducing effect with great skill and stamina.

Again, at the start of the second show, a silence of reverent awe fell over the crowd, as if someone had held up a sign saying, "Shh, geniuses at work." Buck began with some mysterious percussion — a scratchy shaker and something like a wooden bell — soon to be joined by an uneasy bass riff from Swanton. After remaining motionless for around five minutes, Abrahams gently applied suspended piano chords that were unexpected and tenderly exquisite. As the piece developed, the different players' rhythms crossed around each other in unorthodox, complicated ways; as if having conquered us with a classic cinematic build-up in the first show, the idea now was to push something a little more challenging.

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Roughly two-thirds in, Abrahams suddenly began pounding his keys, raising his hands way up like some latter-day Jerry Lee Lewis. The intensity increased threefold and, somehow, The Necks managed to work out a context so that all the earlier weirdness came together into a vivid kind of sense as the set clattered to an almighty finish. Putting an experience like that into words isn’t easy, but it was more than worth it.