The Necks at the Barbican Theatre, 26/06/10

The Necks, photo by Graeme Ross

Those first few seconds of this concert by The Necks, the moments where Chris Abrahams, Lloyd Swanton and Tony Buck were waiting for one of their number to do come up with an idea, felt even longer than usual. A sizeable number of acquaintances were all within a couple of feet of me, some of whom had never seen The Necks live before, and some of whom had been more than a little persuaded to attend by my increasingly vocal enthusiasm for them. I’d probably even called The Necks the “best live band in the world” on more than one occasion. During those seconds of silence, I began to worry. What have I done? I’ve brought a load of people out to see a performance which could be quite unlike anything else they may have seen. A performance which could feature three men doing very little for a couple of hours. Another friend of mine, a fan of both jazz and minimalism, finds The Necks boring live. Was I wrong? Would they hate me? We waited. I worried. Then they began.

And they way they began encapsulated everything that I love about The Necks. After that five second pause (which felt like five minutes), Chris Abrahams played a slow piano melody, an odd and unresolved figure, more a question than a statement. After a minute or so, Lloyd Swanton provided a confident answer on bass, a repeated two note riff. The answer was so authoritative that the initial question was forgotten, and instead Swanton’s simple device became the fulcrum of the whole first set. Buck started gently hitting a cymbal with a brush and shaking a bell, and Abrahams found his own elegant two note solution. Side by side, any two consecutive four bar sections would have looked pretty much identical. But as they shifted imperceptibly over the remainder of the set, you’d find yourself somewhere new without realising how you got there. The significance of any change you did spot became magnified (Swanton playing the same riff down a register, or arco as opposed to pizzicato, or Abrahams adding a strange new sound via a single prepared piano string note) as you waited to see how the others would respond. The opening set was pleasingly symmetrical, ending with Swanton playing a figure which sounded like the mirror image of the opening one, and Abrahams once more playing fragmented piano lines.

After this, I couldn’t wait for the second set. As tends to be the case when I see The Necks, if one set is meditative, the other is more propulsive, with Tony Buck if not bossing the others (such a concept would be unthinkable in the context of a collective performance by The Necks), at least being gently persuasive. This was indeed to be the more rhythmically exciting of the two, even if the obsessive compulsive in me preferred the first set’s delightfully and ingeniously simple structure. After having spent forty minutes merely tapping a cymbal and shaking a bell, Buck was now to spend most of this one repeatedly, and loudly, slapping his tom with a wooden block. This inspired the other two to high energy improvisation, building to a dense, and increasingly tense middle section of bass flurries and rippling piano (Abrahams by now just running his hands up and down the piano, as if doing breast stroke). We waited for it to be broken; finally the release came in the form of possibly the greatest kick drum drop I’ve heard, Buck blowing the set wide open with three loud beats, grinning from ear to ear as he did.

Not that the other two would have noticed his expression: Abrahams had his back to him, and Swanton had his eyes closed, deep in concentration. No visual signals, just the closest of close listening, thinking about how to develop the piece, and waiting for the opportunity to do so. The set wound to a close, we waited for the last piano notes to decay, and we rose to our feet. I didn’t need to wait long for the others to confirm just how good this had been.

(Thanks to @grohs for the photo. You can see more at his Flickr site here)

13 thoughts on “The Necks at the Barbican Theatre, 26/06/10

  1. Yes, it takes me between 5 and 6 hours to get to London. Totally ridiculous, I have to not look at listings anymore because I get too annoyed.

  2. In which case, while you are VERY WELCOME to visit, I wonder whether reading the blog of someone who makes it his business to go to every exciting London gig is such a good idea…

  3. So, at last I’ve experienced The Necks. As you know, I’d never even heard a single note, and didn’t really know what to expect, but it was something so extremely fascinating to watch and to listen to. One of the post comments was that somehow the collective sound they make doesn’t quite seem to be the sum of their individual input, but something altogether different. All through the second set, I could hear the soothing sound of a train, mostly through the drums. You captured the way that, giving the impression that nothing is really changing at all, these guys end up taking you into some really odd sections and you can’t really work out how they, or you, got there.

    Listening to the album you recommended (Chemist) proved a very different experience, but one equally as exciting and fascinating. Saturday opened a door into a wonderland which I am eager to explore further. And for that, I thank you, and Mandrew, and Ash, for bringing this concert to my attention.

  4. This was my first Necks gig — thanks mainly to repeated recommendations here (and amplified by that Jez Nelson fella). Loved it! See you at the next one, and thanks!

  5. Melted my conceptions of structure and obliterated any ideas of what a traditional jazz trio could achieve. Glad I believed the hype.

  6. Only for Stevie Wonder would I miss this. Have seen them 6 times or so but every gig is worth going to as they are moments never to be repeated again. A special bond with the audience therefor is created and am jealous that I could not share this with you.

    The only band in the world I would want to be a member of, too. They look like they have such fun…just as surprised and in awe as the audience most of the time…the power of improvised music indeed.

  7. I did schlep up from Bath, true. But I didn’t on their last visit, when they had the decency to play Bristol – though this was better than that (reviewed at http://earslend.blogspot.com/2009/06/fleetness-of-foot.html – LMYE’s only live review ever), even if I much preferred the first half’s delicacies & leaps of collective faith to the sex face-pulling power trio of the second, for all its many brilliances…

    Anyway, great to see you, Cat & the Twitter cabal/motley there! It’d still have been memorable alone. But it was vastly more so as part of our Rake-ish package tour…

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