Review: The Necks

The Necks
(Barbican Theatre, June 26th 2010, review and pencil drawing by Geoffrey Winston)

Each of the two halves of The Necks‘ Barbican concert was a single extended piece which asserted and then developed its own personality. The theatre setting was stark and black – the trio wore scruffy beach attire – all black and long shorts for the summer evening. The way The Necks operate is telepathic, built on years of playing together, they don’t seem to give each other any visible clues.

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Chris Abrahams, hunched over the piano, didn’t once look at the others, Lloyd Swanton (bass) and Tony Buck (drums), yet he set the tone with a carefully paced, repetitive sequence, picked up by Swanton plucking the notes carefully on string bass, then augmented by Buck’s layers of percussion, using gongs and hand-held chimes, brushes and the kit’s foot pedals, often simultaneously.

Lloyd Swanton’s bowed bass blended with the rich lower registers of the piano, so that each was almost indistinguishable at times. There was an ebb and flow to the first half, which demonstrated how The Necks draw their listeners in to their soundscapes with their range of off-rhythms and an almost unpredictable script. Although improvised, there are also reassuring boundaries – Buck’s fascination with sounds that recall nautical spaces and eastern temples – notably contributing to the atmosphere of their ambitious album, Silverwater; Abrahams elegant and mesmerising minimalist hand-gymnastics on the keyboard, occasionally reminiscent of Harold Budd, and Swanton’s purist bass, perhaps more difficult to define and compartmentalise.

The second half saw impressively disciplined and sustained work on brushes from Buck, quietly suggesting the rhythms of the railroad. He waved a gently resonant bell in the manner of a censer at a religious ceremony – only the incense was missing. Perhaps the most disconcerting moments were when the rhythms that were being created on stage in an unequivocally acoustic manner, were briefly echoed from the rear of the auditorium, one can only deduce, through technical means. At one point the ebb and flow ebbed too much, and drifted to a hiatus, with Buck resorting to seventies-style rock drumming – metal bashing – counter to the earlier challenging and engaging propositions, and deflating, for a spell, the tensions they had been building up.

Nevertheless, it is the way that, as an ensemble, in concert, they can take you in different directions, depending on which of the protagonists is steering the musical ship, that creates the confection that is the musical personality of The Necks.

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