Culture / Music

Slow and deep immersion: an evening with The Necks

Music editor Alys Hale spends an evening in the sonic company of Australian trio The Necks at the Sydney Opera House.

One of the great wonders of improvisational music is that no set is ever the same. It is a unique moment of musical synthesis between those who play, and those who are in the room to witness it. It does, however, make it almost impossible to review. Fortunately, The Necks are one of Australia’s most revered and critically acclaimed trios and, despite not being jazz, nor ambient, nor avant garde, nor minimalist per say, they have a very recognisable sound. 

Whilst the rest of the world faced the sparkling hysteria of plastic bracelets and crying teenagers for Taylor’s trip to Homebush, the cool meditative atmosphere of the Playhouse at the Sydney Opera House last weekend seemed infinitely more inviting. The Necks have played together since 1987, so the trio – made of Chris Abrahams on grand piano, Lloyd Swanton on upright bass, and Tony Buck on drums and percussion – have a near-telepathic understanding between one another. They have produced over 17 records, live recordings and have done extensive soundtrack work. I felt very lucky to be seeing them on home soil, when I can see that they have already sold out four nights in a row in London’s iconic Cafe Otto.

The evening started slowly, with Swanton moving between two pivotal notes on the bass. When all of the frenetic beauty and fervour developed some 30 minutes later, it was hard to believe the piece of music had such simple beginnings. The pacing of the drums was far too complex for me to describe with any musical terminology: it was somewhere between falling metallic leaves, welcome summer rain and a controlled tempest. Buck clearly has the confidence of restraint, as I don’t believe a kick or snare came into the fold for a good twenty minutes.

The fluidity of Abraham’s fingers is much admired and from where I was sat, it was like watching two elegant squids caress the keys. The development of the piano playing throughout the evening was beyond my comprehension (in the best way possible), one could find a musical refrain, or short melody, grasp it for a second before it evolved or it was swept away by its child. 

It was a deeply hypnotic experience that guided the audience into pockets of feelings that only the individual could understand. It felt like a slow descent into vast waters only to realise how deep you are after about an hour.

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