The Necks, Jetty Memorial Theatre, Coffs, Feb 6, 2016
It was a wonderful concert to kick off their 30th anniversary Australian tour – two long pieces with a break.
Strange how the slow build up always works – I was in joy sphere the second half, elated, an elevation of the senses, an hypnotic Dionysian hour of my life. Being front row, just feet away, in the small old theatre made it loud and intimate.
I was mesmerised – It was so wonderful I wish I had (illegally) recorded it – I wonder how many bootlegs there are – most of their 20 odd albums are studio based (but marvellous, worth buying).
Lloyd Wanton has said that their focus was always on the process of making music not the product. He commented in an interview: ‘Yes, in a way it’s a shame, in another way I think it’s really beautiful and special that the time we play that music to those people in that room is the only time it’s ever going to exist. Don’t forget we started out intending to never perform live, or to record, and that still informs our music-making.’[i]
It was a privilege to have been there but we have lost a precious piece of music. I recall my feeling during the concert of love and excitement, but just small details of actual music, a lovely bass drum beat, and near the end a piano figure at the high end I kept waiting for, and the bass leaving its minimalist power for an amazing atonal solo high near the bridge. Improvisation was a norm Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, Sebastian’s eldest and his favourite, is not well known because he wrote little music, he was a famous improviser. One of my favourite rock bands of the past, King Crimson, improvised continually (and there are many bootlegs of their performances). We forget that improvisation is the norm in life. Aboriginal song cycles are associated with specific locations and totems and they are owned, but they are also improvised.[ii] Levi Strauss pointed out that much human activity is that of the bricoleur we use what is to hand and improvise (as does evolutionary process).
The music is eyes wide shut
Chris Abrahams, Lloyd Swanton and Tony Buck are not getting any younger – they need stamina and lots of water
Chris dressed casually in black, looking older with a parched face and balding head, plays eyes tight shut the whole time giving him a strange priest-like look.
Lloyd has a furrowed brow, sometimes the tongue slipping through his lips in concentration, usually his face is close to the neck of the instrument, eyes shut in utter concentration, .
Tony play with his eyes open mostly, watching his kit and the others; he even glances around the audience. I am presuming some of this because for most of the concert lasting over two hours, I had my eyes closed, trying to feel the music though every other sense.
This was the sixth or seventh time I had seen them, but not for many years. I recall my favourite performance at the Opera House when they were interrupted, the accompanying visuals had failed which we could see. A posh woman came out – Tony Buck saw her and stopped playing, but Chris Abrahams, Lloyd Swanton play with their eyes closed, eventually Lloyd stopped but Chris was hammering away, she had to touch him on the shoulder – yanked out of his zone he was shocked – she briefly apologised to the audience and walked off – Chris started hammering the piano and a completely new improvisation, remarkable and fizzing with energy, took over.
Totally improvised music will be better some nights than others. The only time I was slightly disappointed at a Necks concert was about twelve years ago at the Starfish Club, Clovelly, a gig filmed for The Pulse, ABC TV. Here is part of it, with interviews:
That might be because I was blown away by the support act, the Barney McAll Unit, the first time I caught him. He lives in New York; I make do with buying his CDs.
I played Vertigo from last year but it didn’t bring the music back to me, so in honour of the concert I opened a Hoegaarden Grand Cru (I’d carted back from Europe last year) and put on an old favourite, Bomb the Bass, ‘Unknown Territory’ really loud. 25 years old and still sounding fresh to my old ears and still good for a dance.
[i] Int with Kate Hennessy , Feb 10, 2015, http://thequietus.com/articles/17209-the-necks-european-tour-copenhagen-jazzhouse-video-lloyd-swanton-interview
[ii] ‘The great song men add a touch of new mastery to the old rhythms, and extend or abbreviate the original versions as the mood seizes them.’ Ronald M Berndt, ‘A Wonguri-Mandjikai Song Cycle of the Moon-bone’, Oceania, Vxix:1, 1948, p16-50.