The Milk Carton Kids at Union Chapel
“That was easy, the rest is going to be a let-down after that…” said Joey Ryan of the Milk Carton Kids as he and Kenneth Pattengale walked on to the stage to a rapturous Union Chapel welcome. The sold-out crowd was showing its heartfelt appreciation of this Californian duo who have been variously described as ‘minimalist Americana’ and ‘folk revivalists’. No matter what labels are attached to them, their delicate close harmonies produce songs of grace and beauty in no small measure.
This London show was just one of their headlining dates on a European tour – their first visit for some two years – after which they were going to be special guests on the highly acclaimed fusion of Celtic and American music – Transatlantic Sessions.
Touring in support of their latest album Monterey, you might expect the set list to be dominated by material from that album but not so here…yes there were tracks from it but the sixteen songs offered up, spanned all four albums, including ‘Charlie’ from Retrospect released under their own names, before they became The Milk Carton Kids. This particular song was preceded by a narrative that had the audience, firstly clapping congratulations to Pattengale as Ryan explained that the song had been written by Pattengale for his yet to be born daughter and secondly laughing loudly as the story unfolded to reveal that fatherhood was not actually an imminent prospect as ‘Charlie’ had not yet been conceived!
The dry humour and witty between-song asides is something I’ve come to expect, having seen them in concert a few times now. The London audience just loved the stories told, whether spoken or sung. Their material does explore some dark themes but there is almost always an offer of hope that the listener can cling on to…the audience listened and was captivated. Pattengale and Ryan have a very endearing quality; the comedy was very well judged and the quality of the music, spoke for itself. They have developed a particular identity – both wear suits, shirts and ties; both play vintage guitars (1954 Martin 0-15 and 1951 Gibson J45 respectively); Pattengale always ties a white handkerchief around the neck of his guitar to dampen the strings and they both sing into just one microphone.
One of the songs ‘Honey, Honey’ has recently been covered by Sir Tom Jones; he duets with Imelda May on his album Long Lost Suitcase and interprets the song as a hoedown – what fun and what a great compliment to the Milk Carton Kids.
Tonight’s setting was a delight. An architectural treasure of Victorian Gothic with stained glass windows, one of which, the glorious rose, contains eight figures of angels, all playing musical instruments – what could be more perfect?
A standing ovation greeted the closing ‘I Still Want a Little More’ so return they did with ‘New York’ and a surprise cover of Pink Floyd’s ‘Wish You were Here’. I am so glad I was! Jela Webb
Hope of a Lifetime
The City of Our Lady
The Ash & Clay
Secrets of the Stars
I Still Want a Little More
Wish you Were Here (Pink Floyd cover)