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The Necks (live at The Vortex City Sessions)

The Necks live at the Bishopsgate Institute March 2014 The Bishopsgate Institute, London
21 March 2014

Greeted at the entrance to the venue by a very City commissionaire resplendent in full uniform complete with ceremonial sash and medals, it’s clear that this is going to be no ordinary gig. The Bishopsgate Institute is at once an adult education centre and a concert hall, and it’s certainly a splendid setting in which to revisit the live music of The Necks. A pleasant surprise is finding Gina Southgate at her easel in a corner by the stage, ready to paint the band as they play.

So when the trio eventually come on stage, their improvised set is the same as ever but different as usual, and oxymoron which sums up the live Necks experience. Chris Abrahams initiates proceedings with a cascading ripple of piano notes which lift into a threnody scarring the undertow of Lloyd Swanton‘s bass, an uncertain sound – though all the sources are visible – jumping and buzzing over the flow. Tony Buck‘s bass drum serving as an arrhythmic pulse rather than a beat, rubber-banding more than rolling, a hulking shudder rather than a metronomic setting of time and (s)pace on a singular procession, the trio rising, rising, rising together and apart into a place where the concepts of time and space are made redundant by their gradual – almost glacial – deconstruction of place and quotidian reality.

The Necks live at the Bishopsgate Institute March 2014

Audience members soon lay back onto the floor as space allows – it’s an odd change to be an a non-seated Necks gig – and relax into music of such intensity that there is no real choice but to submit, to become one with the piano, bass and drums. The clack of percussion is tapped out by Buck on surfaces not even considered as worthy of rhythm by most drummers, forming cycles, whorls and trapezoidal shapes, the three musicians bringing forth wavering tendrils of imagery in both their two sets of waking dream theatre. The Necks just are, like a force of nature, like a Platonic solid stripped of all its essentialist overtones, a quintessential being made manifest before the faithful’s eyes and ears. To become lost, to become one, to be strewn like chaff before their grind as they take themselves and their witnesses on a Corybantic ride, a splash in at least eight dimensions dished up by three consummate  performers as rapt in the making of their music as the audience are at hearing it.

The Necks live at the Bishopsgate Institute March 2014

The second set opens on a low thrum of strings and ivories twinkled to the clang of metal under gentle pressure. Like the sea, like the tide, a soft pressure at first but one which is capable of great havoc; the sound of approaching dynamics which will make a crescendo, cause a riot, make a splash – there is always that threat in this music. Then comes a garbling storm of gamelan redux, and an almost hesitant desire for release held captive, seizing more than just a moment but many instants segueing into each other – time not merely held hostage but ransomed for the very highest demand that The Necks can make of the supposed inevitability of linear progression from one so-called note to the assumed next. Neither a whimper nor a bang but somewhere progressing between those states, an enfolding, enveloping sound which is ultimately as human as breathing to the inhalation and exhalation onstage.

The Necks live at the Bishopsgate Institute March 2014 Their finale lets in a flood of sound which seems like it couldn’t possibly be – but so very much is – coming from just piano, drums and bass. Relentlessly, stoically, even heroically, The Necks prove at length that they can make music like no others. Abrahams lets fly with two-fisted piano runs with the emphasis on the forte as they finally, gloriously raise not only the roof but the collective spirit of the night and perhaps even the age.

-Linus Tossio-

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