The NecksPhoto – John Tapia Urquiza

The Necks will never be immortalised in print. For nearly twenty-five years, their sound has defied linguistics. Furthermore, it has defied conventional understandings of appeal and longevity. The Sydney trio have arguably been delivering an essentially unchanged product since 1987 – vast, expansive meditations of minimalist abstraction and illusive psycho-acoustic invention. Still, they remain consistently acclaimed. The audience for tonight's performance is almost a capacity crowd.

The performance itself, meanwhile, effortlessly demonstrates just how and why they've sustained such a devoted following over the years. As per usual, the band opt to perform two improvised sets. Their initial work isn't actually their strongest but, even off their game, The Necks showcase a uniquely fascinating approach to sound and extemporary performance – drummer Tony Buck opening proceedings with a drum-roll which eventually runs for nearly half-an-hour.

As time stretches, Buck expands with additional percussion and shakers. Pianist Chris Abrahams joins the fray with stabbing, exploratory piano chords. Upright bassist Lloyd Swanton cycles through percussive fretwork, bowed textural experimentation and low, searching, solitary notes. It's an unquestionably exhilarating experience – arguably some of the most free-wheeling and chaotic music The Necks have produced in a live setting.

Nevertheless, it doesn't feel right. The ideas seem to clash in an uncomfortable manner. The players seem to rush their transitions. Typically, The Necks' performances feel like an unfurling – a gradual, meticulously orchestrated explosion of inspiration. This reads more like a collage. The audience are clearly satisfied when matters draw to a close but it's difficult to know what to expect of the band's pending follow-up performance.

When said performance materialises, it proves itself almost categorically opposed to its predecessor's frenetic dynamics. The set begins with a lively and lyrical melodic figure from Abrahams but swiftly deteriorates into a pulsing, skeletal architecture which serves to define the band's entire performance – Buck riding an endless sequence of off-kilter tom-rhythms, Abrahams continuously swirling his fingers across a single melodic fragment, Swanton often merely plugging away at a single note.

The repetition draws audiences into the detail of the maelstrom. Each minor variation – however slight in execution – becomes almost titanic in significance. When Swanton settles into a single note after pummelling audiences with a brutal two-note figure, an almost inescapable tension swallows the amphitheatre. Buck seems to shift time itself simply through replacing a tom with a crash cymbal. Each detail feels magnified to galactic proportions.

Abrahams' eventual conclusion is devastating. Spontaneously reprising his opening melodic figure in the piece's tremulous final moments, he lends a sense of scope and gravitas to the band's performance that many cynics would deem beyond the capacity of an improvised piece of music. It's in the lingering ecstasy and surprise of such a conclusion that The Necks' justify their longevity – reminding audiences of the sheer joyous discovery of sound and its infinite possibilities.

Stellar. As per usual.


Venue: Brisbane Powerhouse
Date: Thu 29 March, 2012

Most read Brisbane reviews

At this moment in our cultural history, as Australia emerges gradually from the restrictions...