Despite the fact that The Necks are now approaching three decades together, describing their music to the uninitiated becomes no easier. Piano, bass (double) and drums – as they simply titled one of their live recordings – is as close and far away as you can get. The only vaguely predictable element is that a Necks live performance will most likely incorporate two sets, each set will be one piece, each piece will be entirely improvised. That is where the story begins and ends.
On a night when across town The Sunnyboys and The Riptides where being resurrected, a night after I saw the phoenix-like rising of the wonderful Louis Tillet; it strikes me that as much as I enjoy reliving the songs of these artists, as valid as they are, as much as their music sounds as good today as it did twenty or thirty years ago, these are “heritage” artists, playing music that was written (mostly) decades before. And here at The Basement, an act that has continued on over that period, who continues to create not only new music, but create that music right in front of you, every single time they perform.
Therein lies the glory of The Necks. These pieces are not improvised, they are created. From scratch. Before an audience. With an audience. Without preconceptions, and most importantly, through the interplay of these three musicians – Chris Abrahams, Lloyd Swanton, and Tony Buck.
Now I could tell you how their two pieces varied on this particular night. How the first set eased you into the night, the way that Tony Buck’s rhythms interwove with Lloyd Swanton’s often percussive bass. The motifs of each musician heading down their own path only to intersect with each other on occasions. How the second set fairly rollicked along in one of their most beautiful and epic moments, Abrahams piano taking us on a journey propelled by the sheer force of collective will (think a two man bobsleigh, the piano being pushed from the gate by the bass and drums, before they jumped on board, all three hurtle at breakneck speeds through twists, and surprising turns with a combination of grace and white-knuckle fear). I could tell you that, but then again next time it will be completely different.
The one thing I did wonder as I was leaving that night was if The Necks had, ever, for any reason, played the same piece twice. Could this be the only band in history never to have repeated themselves over 28 years? So I thought i’d double check. According to Lloyd Swanton: “Once at the Strawberry Hills we tried doing ten minutes of “Sex” (their first recording) as an encore, but it wasn’t very good.”
Which goes to show two things. Firstly, that The Necks worked out very early on how they operate at thier absolute peak, creating music that is both live and living in the moment; and secondly, that you should never, ever, try and abbreviate sex.