Concert date: June 26, 2010

The Necks @ the Barbican, June 26th 2010

Every performance by Australian trio the Necks is precious, and not only because of the atmosphere of intense serenity (the closest my vocabulary can get I’m afraid) pianist Chris Abrahams, bassist Lloyd Swanton and percussionist Tony Buck conjure between them.

It is precious because each performance is wholly unique. No member knows what they are about to play before they begin, where the music will go, when and how it will end. The Necks’ catalogue is built on total improvisation, their repertoire increasing (though never returned to) every time they pick up their instruments.

Yet the Necks inhabit a musical idiom that contains just enough coherence and familiarity (residing somewhere between contemporary jazz, classical minimalism and post-rock) to entice rather than challenge listeners.

As usual, their concert at the Barbican last night consisted of two 50ish-minute sets (most of their albums consist of a single, hour-long track), though in the Necks’ soundworld, time – rather than passing in linear fashion – ebbs and flows in iterative patterns.

The first set was the more contemplative. It began by setting gentle, trilling piano waves against sparkles of cymbal and wind chimes, anchored by a repeated bass refrain. Gradually opening out harmonically and dynamically, the trio created a mesmeric but benign force, sustaining it for only a short period before fading it again – rather as one gently unwraps a locked-away treasured possession in order to hold and gaze at it awhile, before carefully returning it to its safe place.

Chris Abraham of The Necks @ the Barbican, June 26th 2010

The second set was almost the antithesis of the first. Starting with an urgently rhythmic bass line and locomotive-like snare brush it quickly built into a powerful drone, with Abrahams hammering the lower register and Buck using a wooden block to create a bluntly percussive rhythm track. Again the group opened the piece out, led by Abrahams piling glissando upon glissando (see picture) before locking the group into a tight groove set by Buck’s syncopated bass drum. And all the while Swanton’s bass kept going at a punishing pace.

Catharsis complete, the trio closed the evening as they had opened it: with minimalist contemplation, then silence – broken by a rapturously appreciative audience.