Live, Music, Reviews

The Necks, Vivid Live (Sydney Opera House, June 4)

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Renowned, Australian, improvisational jazz trio The Necks were invited to play their first headline slot in their own right at Vivid on Sunday night as part of a world tour celebrating their 30th anniversary. They’re known as a band for music ‘purists’ with many critics describing them as their favourite band.

Their debut album, 1989’s Sex, consists of a single track that builds around a theme that is introduced at the beginning and maintained right until the end. Their shows, no two of are alike, often begin with a simple beat that never entirely disappears for the length of the set. Along with ‘experimental’, The Necks’ music is often described as ‘minimalist’ and ‘hypnotic’.

On Sunday, the untitled and improvised music began with a drifting Chris Abrahams’ piano melody. Double bass player Lloyd Swanton slowly dragged his bow across his bass and drummer Tony Buck waved bells over his kit. It was clear why The Necks live are called hypnotic. After some time of this movement .the piano riff was expanded in breadth and pace and the rhythm section joined in. It reminded me of a thriller film score – the tension is building, but no one has been throttled yet.

The break came when the bass became more expansive and Abrahams began a run on the piano before the band settled on a theme related to the original movement. This went on before building to a mild crescendo …The momentum continued to build with louder piano chords struck and Buck attacking his cymbals. Soon the sound became all encompassing, a beautiful racket with bass broadening and Buck fairly piling on the drums.

Gradually, the reigns were loosened beginning with piano and bass and then The Necks came to an abrupt stop. End of set one and rapturous applause.

After a break, The Necks returned to the stage with Buck initiating proceedings with a soft, jangly beat, before Swanton joined in and Abrahams began to literally tinkle the ivories. As we were getting comfortable with this vibe, Swanton embarked on a new run before settling on an agitated riff, quickly followed by bass and lightly tapping drums.

After some time, the urgency of the playing grew on the audience. A new piano riff was begun, while the bass and drums kept on keeping on … They rumbled along at a rollicking pace and a new crescendo was built, before the tempo slowly wound down … The bass plucking became a gentle wash with a bow and The Necks ceased playing … Again there was well deserved hearty applause.

Obviously, The Necks are not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but open-minded music lovers are missing something if they haven’t checked them out live. I was never bored despite the repetition and it’s exciting not knowing where they are taking their audience to.

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