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The Necks: Manchester, England, September 15, 2012

David McLean By

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The Necks
Band On The Wall
Manchester
September 15, 2012

The Necks is one of those rare and ingenious bands that has consistently made the role of the critic wonderfully obsolete. Since the group's inception in the late '80s and across 20 albums, this Australian trio has deftly maneuvered out of any pigeonhole ascribed to them—whether it be the reductive term "Post-Rock" or the ludicrous early noughties marketing tag "nu-jazz," communicating The Necks' sound has always been a difficulty due to the mutability of the group's music. This is a fact well known and lovingly embraced by its fans and one realized in the opulent, noir-ish surroundings of Manchester's Band on the Wall club. However, something far more profound and wondrous became apparent during The Necks' set, something that went beyond just the act of pushing boundaries into something audibly life-assuring.

With the simple tools of piano, bass and drums, The Necks has become masterful in creating huge vistas of sound, ones that slowly unfurl as if describing the expanse of the Australian outback and the subtle variations within, as exemplified by this evening's performance. Beginning with a simple piano figure, the group blossomed throughout the course of the first 45 minute set into a trance-inducing meditation and finishing with a dark, rootsy blues workout. It was fascinating to watch the delicacy of the group's interplay; so obviously indicative of its players' deep understanding of their instruments and of each other, with changes in the piece being signaled through barely perceptible signs. A plucked bass string, splashed cymbal or piano chord strike could shift the music into entirely different areas, and yet somehow still manage to keep the same overriding theme.

At times, it was difficult to understand who was playing what—pianist Chris Abrahams' sheets of sound could easily have been bassist Lloyd Swanton's bowed strings. The thunderous, well-timed clamor of bass, erupting with cascades of melody, was most likely Tony Buck's bass drum, which punctuated the beautifully bloated sound world, but in all honesty could have come from any of the players. The developments in the music at times uncannily mirrored the forces of nature at their wildest, the amalgamating character of the piece threatening to careen out of control. The intensity produced made for spectacular listening.

Perhaps the greatest attribute of The Necks, bar its ability to dissolve the trappings of every music the trio wishes to challenge or invoke, is the its unique approach to improvising. Rather than using this practice as a platform to display virtuosity and technical ability, The Necks' approach breaks away from the confines of the jazz and avant-garde traditions into something that improvisation has always aspired to but rarely gained: an invocation of the present, of the now, of life in all it's different and varied colors. The dialogue between these three men, as witnessed this evening, was delicate and considered, with all three combining to make one cohesive whole. Although The Necks has been charged with being a minimalist group more akin to The Deep Listening Band than pianist Bill Evans' Trio, what became startlingly obvious was how maximalist the music conjured was, which almost mocked the term.

Sadly, leaving before the second set, all reports indicate that The Necks took the opportunity to pound out a rugged and rhythmical session that twinned with the first set, making for a deeply varied and richly engaging concert. It seems, with The Necks, that no two performances are the same, a testament to its commitment to continually strive to mirror the diversity of life. What more incentive need there be to catch this group live?

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