The Necks at the Sydney Opera House – I was there!
Last night Chris Abrahams, Tony Buck and Lloyd Swanton lulled me into a trance, teased me into a kind of delirium and stole a cherry I didn’t know I had.
They took me into a room – it was a spectacular room. High ceilings, bulging walls that swelled at the peak of the throb of sound, dark womb-like safe beauty. I was ushered to a chair – a comfy chair – and I was told to wait. I stared at a large stage that had a soft humid little smoke machine creating a gentle float of a curtain at the back. Pink lights shone up from the base, giving the impression of a lush velvet drapery. Noting else stood on the floor expect a grand piano, a double bass and a drum kit. Oh – and a microphone on a microphone stand.
My heart started to race.
Soon the three of them came out. They looked … rather normal actually. Chris Abrahams sat at the piano, Lloyd Swanton took his place behind the Double Bass and Tony Buck sat behind the drums. They paused for a brief moment.
And then they began to play.
It started with a rumble. A repetitive, but gentle, oh so slight refrain. The same tiny jingle – just a few notes teasing each other together. Wide eyed I watched and waited. I was completely at their mercy. I wanted them to do whatever they needed to do make me open up to the music. Chris Abrahams played the same refrain, lilting, simple, soft. Over and over… Tony Buck took a small kettle drum (or was it a gong?) and ran circular sounds around the beat kept by Chris. Soon Lloyd plucked subtlety out of the air adding to the circular swell of the music, as it tripped and played, accompanying me on this journey. Tony had bells on his ankles like a gypsy, and together the three of them pulled at me, tugged at me, teased me into letting go.
It didn’t take them long, really to have me any which and every way. I was their’s after a shameful five or ten minutes. These are not men to boast over the conquered, however. They’re not about the spoils of war. They are about the bewitching nature of pure possession. As the music, keeping its same, basic lilting indifference, expanded and contracted they matched the sounds of piano trills with cymbals and bells, a plucked bass tune with a black key rhythm and the endless scraping of a cymbal on its side over the skin of a snare; eerie, wild, a whispered screech licking at my ears.
Thiscrescendo, diminuenco, crescendo, diminuenco, crescendo, diminuenco, crescendo, diminuenco, dance held me captive for just over an hour, till the drum and the bass fell away and the tickling piano lulled us into a lights up announced break.
It was then I remembered I was in a room with two thousand other people and at the Sydney Opera house.
But that’s the most extraordinary thing about seeing The Necks live. Yes they are perfect players, yes they smooth into each other like one soul, yes they know their craft so well subversion feels like worship. But it’s the intimacy that captures your heart. They speak to you. That music is an invitation, a promise that the other side of this fence you can’t see over is filled with green pastures. They take your hand, gentle-like, and they walk you into a world where instruments are used in ways unexpected, a piano takes control with its rhythm while the drums carry the tune, and the bass stands foreboding and umbrella like behind the two shrouding them both in a cloaking depth.
When we came back after half time, clumsy and clucking with our freshly poured wine and our pathetically uninteresting opinions, we sit and we wait – feeling as though we can’t be tricked a second time.
But then they pull out the big guns.
In a shorter time frame, still using their circular patterned structure, The Necks show you (and remember – its only you again) how much they were holding back before. How much they spared you from too stark an awareness. In the second half of the performance you realise that life changing first half was a preamble. A lesson. A way of learning how to hear their mind bending second half. Now Lloyd with his base steps forward, his hands a blur on his instrument/lovers neck, his plucking hand a wave of beauty. It rumbles and rolls around, dancing a duplex scale to Chris’ piano. Its a gut wrenching, beautiful sound, the kind you feel just as well as you hear.
Just as in the first half, the dynamics are everything, as sound rises and falls between Tony’s huge variety of percussion instruments / implements, and the bass. Each competes for my attention, each wrestles in a harmony driven dance of domination over and under each other. The Necks again give me the feeling of being alone in the room with them, just as they give the impression of being one themselves.
No one else does this.
No one comes even close.
Every concert unique. every concert an event. And I was there last night.