Photo – Chris Holly
Over the past two decades, The Necks have developed a singular ability to deliver a different experience with each live performance while still remaining both familiar and reliable. That said, the Sydney trio’s debut set tonight is unusual even by their standards.
Compared to their standard improvisations, it feels thoroughly restless. From the outset, the trio eschew their more minimal approaches. Pianist Chris Abrahams begins not with a sprinkling of notes but a fully fledged chord progression. He doesn’t repeat the phrase, either. He disintegrates it. It’s reprised and revisited in fragments and variables – but never fully restated.
The set is a compendium of such moments. As opposed to their typical aesthetic of an oceanic wall of minuscule ideas, tonight’s initial performance has a more linear and modular progression. Half-formed phrases and ideas arranged haphazardly in a more collagist sense. In truth, it recalls more the aesthetic of recent albums like 2009’s Silverwater and 2011’s Mindset than their actual live shows.
The effect is unbalancing. There is so much tension within the band’s sound tonight. The progression is so illogical and irrational that it almost jars. One feels like they’re being kept on the ropes of the ring. Whenever the band seem as if they’re about to relent, they renew their attack from another angle. Even when they do break down to minimal components in the piece’s outro, there exists a suppressed violence that proves almost unbearable.
One suspects the band know the scope of their detour. Upon their return from intermission for their second set, their aesthetic has changed drastically. It’s calmer. More traditional (insofar as The Necks are ever traditional). Sustained almost entirely on the rippling of Abrahams‘ piano, decorated and warped by Lloyd Swanton’s hovering bass notes and Tony Buck’s shimmering auxiliary percussion, it’s a timeless, weightless piece of music.
However, the band once again eschew tradition – in that there’s no crescendo or climax. Their work simply flows and swells and recedes. For some, it may skirt the edges of tedium but, following the mercurial firestorm of the band’s initial outing, it proves rejuvenating. It’s a soothing coda that, frankly, the audience – and the band, for that matter – probably need more than they realise.
It’s become something of a critic’s tradition (read: cliche) to marvel that The Necks‘ improvisatory magic tricks still yield returns so late in their career – but it’s hard not to feel as such when each concert experience they deliver proves both so reliably unique and uniquely reliable.
Brisbane Powerhouse presents
Venue: Powerhouse Theatre | 119 Lamington St, New Farm
Date: Feb 7, 2013
Bookings: www.brisbanepowerhouse.org | 3358 8600