Once you see it in action, you really get the feeling that most concerts should involve art supplies. Who knows what could happen if we armed all rockers with paint and markers while they jammed? Infinite Color & Sound – the visual art and music duo comprised of Mike McCready and Kate Neckel – hit NYC with a burst of creative energy on Thursday night, bringing their intimate mixed media show to Public Arts. For their one-night-only NYC debut, they were joined by special guest Joseph Arthur, who contributed strong vocals and guitar, drawing, finger-painting, and an impossibly-long handstand. Mike McCready, the rock & roll hall-of-famer best known for his otherworldly guitar solos as part of Pearl Jam, brought the power he’s known for with signature McCready moments as well as more surprising ones, like when he started playing keys with his right hand and guitar with his left. Completely at ease, he didn’t blink when paint was splashed on his body or even his 1959 Gibson Les Paul. Doing much of the painting was gifted Seattle artist Kate Neckel, whose trademark abstract faces popped on each canvas like flowers pushing through cracks in the sidewalk.
At 7:38pm, McCready walked up without fanfare and sat down on a park bench between two of the duo’s pet mannequins. His expression was calm behind his dark sunglasses, and he began writing in a composition book, working quickly as one of their ethereal singles unfolded in the background. Once the many Pearl Jam fans in the room realized they were inches away from McCready, the shared excitement was palpable; half of the crowd held their breath, and the other half couldn’t resist whispering and discussing how cool he looked. Joseph Arthur entered next, and it was clear that a few attendees had not yet learned of his guest appearance when they began shouting his name with surprised glee. He walked to the three blank canvases in the back and started their whole masterpiece by drawing a tiny “hi” in red crayon, followed by a waving hand. Marching down the spiral staircase with a large vintage suitcase (which we’d later see was filled with Polaroids), Neckel joined the party and started drawing on both the mannequins and McCready, briefly placing a purple wig on his head before they both exchanged a grin. At that point, McCready stood up and snapped a Polaroid of the crowd – as he usually does; check out his 2017 book, Of Potato Heads and Polaroids – and gave the developing image back to them. He would do this several times throughout the course of their performance; sometimes the photos were taped up on the canvas and became part of the artwork, but usually, they landed right in fans’ hands.
Infinite Color & Sound (& Joseph)’s show was so convivial and relaxed, McCready, Neckel, and Arthur joked with the packed room, complimented each other’s efforts, and openly discussed what they wanted to do next as their living work of art evolved. Most often, they wanted to play another song, to everyone’s delight. Their opener, a warm cover of The Velvet Underground’s “Femme Fatale,” was a perfect fit for the Andy Warhol-inspired format of their show (learn more in our in-depth interview with McCready and Neckel, coming soon to P&W), and McCready’s vocals were resonant. Right after that, Neckel switched to electric guitar, playfully ordering McCready and Arthur to do more painting. “Look! No eyes!” Arthur announced as he made wild brush strokes on the right-hand canvas while facing the opposite direction, one of many times his jovial antics stirred up laughter. Then, splitting the message across all three canvases in small letters, McCready used blue crayon to instill the plea, “save the kids.”
After a thoughtful song written by Neckel that was brimming with personality, the trio paid tribute to Ric Ocasek with a crisp cover of “You’re All I’ve Got Tonight” by The Cars. Arthur also treated us to a fresh song from his forthcoming album, Come Back World (due out October 11th), called “Mayor of the Lower East Side.” That eloquent track featured a heavenly guitar solo by McCready, whose neck and arms were painted a beautiful blue by Neckel as he leaned back with his eyes closed. It was thrilling seeing McCready and Arthur bounce musical ideas back and forth with nothing more than eye contact, watching each other’s fretboards closely, McCready nodding approvingly at Arthur when things sounded particularly harmonious. In the rare moments when he was not rocking out, Arthur was visibly having a blast in the accepting, anything-goes environment built by Infinite Color & Sound. During the duo’s next song, Arthur became a two-headed creature when he donned the head of a mannequin, throwing his full body into a double-tempo dance. “I was quite happy interpretive dancing though,” Arthur said, acting as if he was reluctant to switch back to guitar. “I had quite a moment there. I think I found my passion just in that moment.”
A core theme of Infinite Color & Sound, as a project, is the notion of facing your fears and departing your comfort zone. When you see Neckel and McCready collaborating live, you can sense how much they’ve been able to push each other in this regard; their chemistry is carefree and courageous. In addition to drawing and painting with a characteristic style, McCready also took over the keys for an entire song; a first-time thing, according to the duo. Between songs, Neckel noted with a contagious giggle how so much paint was stuck in her hair, she could no longer sweep it to the side. Her Ramones tee was also covered, well decorated by Arthur, who had carefully painted a blue heart around Neckel’s real heart. Toward the end of the show, during a spoken word experiment with McCready on guitar and Neckel improvising urban poetry, Arthur wore a wide smile, holding a handstand for the whole segment and kicking his legs to clap with his feet. Gravity made his shirt slip down in the process, and that’s when Neckel spotted a new swath of usable canvas; she painted a wide blue stripe across his abs and he squealed as the cold paint hit his skin.
Throughout the evening, especially toward the end, it felt like Infinite Color & Sound couldn’t stifle their generosity. McCready stepped down from the stage, meeting fans through his camera’s viewfinder and greeting them with a sweet expression. He continued to stage shots, wordlessly directing people to pose and handing out the printed Polaroids happily. Neckel, who handles various materials with destructive elegance, disassembled a large bouquet and tossed bundles of flowers in every direction. You could sense that watching people catch them genuinely brought her joy. On their way out, each attendee also got to choose an original poster and had a chance to purchase one of the duo’s limited-run 45s. At this time, there aren’t many upcoming dates scheduled for Infinite Color & Sound, so don’t miss them tonight and tomorrow if you’re anywhere near the Sea.Hear.Now Festival in Asbury Park, NJ. Well beyond being in his presence and watching him solo up close, it’s really a treat seeing a legend like McCready explore new mediums and have so much fun. “Thank you guys for coming tonight,” he told the full room lovingly. “We were honored to have you watch us go crazy on stage.”
Article: Olivia Isenhart
Photos: Shayne Hanley