The Necks @ Rosemount Hotel, Sunday June 11

Over a 30-year career, The Necks have created a consistent style where simple musical figures are developed over long forms; it is not so much the content but the process that matters. Repeated patterns are introduced and transformed, maintaining a functional quality that is devoid of emotional flourishes. Workmanship and wilful repetition turn these basic materials into music that tricks the ear and heightens the perception of time. ‘Tura presents The Necks’ was part of the trio’s national tour celebrating 30 years since their formation.

The band walks in after an introduction by Tura New Music Director Toss Mahoney. Pianist Chris Abrahams is at one end of the stage and a laptop next to him triggers an audio track with creaking noises. Tony Buck begins playing soft washes on a cymbal, supporting a piano melody that rises and falls in spaced cycles. The musicians align their parts in clockwork manner; with slight changes of tone, and a groove that expands and contracts breath-like.

A stream of piano notes descending is picked up by Lloyd Swanton, who plays muted plucks on the double bass, and a rumble of percussion follows with growing responses. Sometimes one instrument completes the phrases of the other, or disguises its sounds in mimicry. The band labours with great focus, until a point is reached where everything turns into a spinning cloud of sound and it is difficult to distinguish who is playing what.

An egalitarian ethos sees each member’s contribution being embraced and given space to develop. At times, someone stops playing altogether, hoping in and out of the music as if it were a game of chess with gridlocks and surreptitious moves. One hears them making decisions, sorting out the material, and striving for new perspectives. There is something very humbling about presenting music that is in a state of becoming; an empathic bond develops between the audience and the musicians as the performance unravels.

The second set starts with Tony Buck creating a rickety soundscape with small objects against the snare. Swanton propels these sounds playing octaves, bouncing them on a single riff to incantatory effect. Abrahams comps lightly on major chords and spins melodies of pentatonic flavour over the restless clatter. In contrast to the introspective first set, the tone is relaxed and open.

Chris Abrahams is an impassible presence at the piano, with a mischievous knack for changing the mood abruptly; the pleasant lilt turns ominous when he introduces minor chords. Swanton follows by bowing on a single note incessantly, achieving a strained tremolo that sounds like a screech, while a kick drum raps with more insistence at the end of each phrase.

The music thins out and Abrahams wraps it up with a blues turnaround. It is a cliché that makes some people in the audience chuckle, but the pianist presses on with deadpan manner, bringing in more blues figurations, playing them with classical poise and juggling different lines in counterpoint, until these finally lose motion and fizzle out. Despite the playfulness, the ending is solemn and reflects the scale of band’s excursions.

The Necks at the Rosemount offered moments of awe and beauty, but also flashes of mordant humor that were unexpected. Above all was the synergy of their interactions, and the commitment to each musical idea with a mixture of patience and spontaneity.

Eduardo Cossio