Assuming I’ve managed to poke and prod the right buttons in tumblr to make this happen, this blog should go live at roughly the same time that I’ll be sitting in The Basement with drink in tow, waiting for something very special to happen over the course of the next couple of hours. You see, I’m off to watch The Necks play live tonight. This’ll be somewhere between the tenth and fifteenth time that I’ve watched them play - I’ve honestly lost count, it could be even more than that. You’d think that watching any band play live would lose its lustre after attending that many shows, but to me, The Necks aren’t just any band. And I’m as excited to see them today as I was the very first time.
Necks are an Australian jazz trio that have been playing together for over two decades now. Their members - Tony Buck on drums, Lloyd Swanton on bass, and Chris Abrahams on piano - are among the finest in their craft. A simple glance of their rather exhaustive individual resumes is enough to prove that. I first heard them back in 2005 when JJJ were doing an “A-Z of Australian music” feature. Hearing “The Sleep of Champions” (from their album The Boys) playing on a fuzzy car radio was enough to convince me that this was a band worth checking out, so I took a trip out to the record store later that week and picked up the first album I could find. That happened to be Hanging Gardens (a brief ten minutes of the full hour-long, single-track piece can be listened to here).
The next day I took a long lunch break and spent about $200+ grabbing every other album of theirs I could find.
So yeah, they had a bit of an effect on me.
But albums aside, it’s the live show that’s really what makes me love them. The typical Necks show is split into two sets of 45-60 minutes each. There’s that initial moment of anticipation as you wander in to the empty theater, seeing the instruments minus their performers, all lying dormant. And then in time the lights will lights darken, the audience will give a smattering of applause, and the trio will make their way on-stage. They’ll take their instruments, and ready themselves to play.
And then, silence. Absolute silence.
You can hear a pin drop in the theater during that initial moment before the band play. Because, you see, The Necks are an improvisational band, and very often it would seem that the band don’t even know amongst themselves as to who’s going to start playing first, or even what they’re going to play. The audience, too, are waiting with bated breath, knowing that what they’re about to hear is something new, something born purely out of the moment, and never to be repeated. It happens in every show of theirs I’ve been to, in every different city.
And the silence continues. The band stand ever-so-still, their eyes closed, as if waiting for someone to tell them to ‘go’.
And then, that moment comes. One of the members will begin to play something. A soft chord, a gentle tap of a cymbal, a thrumming bass - exactly who starts first each time is anyone’s guess - but eventually the remaining members will join in as well. Over the next 50 minutes the piece will grow and evolve, to the point where you can be sitting there in stunned wonder, trying to figure out how exactly it got to this point.
Eventually the piece will draw to its conclusion - whether abruptly or gradually is up to the whim of the band members themselves. But typically their pieces will gradually fade and the band members will stop playing one-by-one until there’s just one left to carry the music to its end. He, too, will eventually stop.
And silence returns to the theater..
..if only for a few seconds. And then, there’s a sizable and rather lengthy amount of applause from a very appreciative and very blown-away audience.
Then it’s time to grab a quick drink before the band come back on-stage in twenty minutes to do it all again a second time.
Seeing this band live is something I recommend to anyone. There are Perth, Melbourne and Canberra dates left in what might be their only Aus tour for this year.