This is what might happen to you when you go to see The Necks play a show. You wander up a staircase and into a room full of quite an assortment of people. You stand still for a moment to observe the cross-section – everyone is very serious looking and the age range is quite diverse. There is no standing space per se, since the venue has been filled with chairs, so you make a quick scan and eventually resign yourself to find some unobtrusive railing to lean upon. A double bass lies on its side under a soft spotlight; a drum kit and a beautiful grand piano flank it and look especially jazzy against a red velvet curtain backdrop.
Eventually three pretty normal looking men wander out on to the darkened stage and the pianist almost immediately starts to play – you find yourself devoting all your attention to the repetitive, wandering, somewhat minor piano riff that he plays, each time very slightly differently, improvising on a theme. Slowly you realise you are being lulled in to something of a trance, and a rough sound emanates from the double bass, gradually moving towards a drone, and without you even really noticing, chiming bells clatter in to existence from the drum kit, like prayer bells.
The ritualistic element is working – you are drawn in to a state of meditation, listening to the development of motifs and the slow buildup and interaction of melodies. The chord progression becomes clear – suddenly your attention has moved to the double bass, only to be distracted by a beautiful piano line emerging and receding, painting pictures in your head as you force yourself to focus on the music, focus on the music, focus on the music, but your mind is conjuring up scenes – the melody and chords are dark, and there is a sense of anxiety in the room from a never-ending pattern that keeps you wondering, predicting an ending.
It’s because the members of The Necks really understand music that this isn’t just plain annoying or discordant – your ears filter through 7ths, 9ths, 12ths, complex rhythms, 8 bar sequences – and so you keep listening, allowing yourself to give up your pop-song structures for a more transcendent musical experience. The volume level and texture increases to a point of almost white noise, and you begin to emerge from your mind, realising that an hour has passed, and soon the music dies like a curtain falling and the band is done for the first set.
The second hour-long set, after a short break, proves more melodically bright, conjuring scenes in the mind that are more pleasant, less tense, although equally as interesting. No intense jangling bells – this time, rushing water sounds and other unidentifiable but beautiful percussive noises. You’re prepared better this time, you know your legs will probably fall asleep, and you observe the faces of those around you, desperate to figure out what happens in their minds when this experimental, improvisational jazz takes the room on its epic journey. You awake, proverbially, into the real world an hour later and walk out and hear music in traffic lights and trains, high heels and door slams. Definitely not your average.