The Milk Carton Kids, St Pancras Old Church (London, April 10th 2013)
You can listen to the CDs, you can watch the videos, you can hear selected tracks played on the radio but you really hope that one day you’ll get the opportunity to attend a live performance…when that first time beckons, full of eager anticipation, and then turns out to be something really special…well, you just can’t beat that experience.
In the hallowed setting of St Pancras Old Church, steeped in history, memory and commemoration, The Milk Carton Kids (Joey Ryan and Kenneth Pattengale) looked out to see a full house for their debut London show. Tickets had sold out weeks in advance, leaving many fans saddened that they were missing out…however the good news is that they will be back for a tour later this year.
The duo, formed in 2011 when as the story goes, Ryan heard Pattengale singing Memoirs of an Owned Dog (the lyrics are from the perspective of a dead dog) and was so taken by the song that he introduced himself. Weeks later a song swap followed during which they realised that their combined voices blended so well together and the duo, we know today, was formed.
Their first album RETROSPECT was a re-working of songs written individually; their second PROLOGUE followed soon after, featuring jointly penned material and both albums were released digitally for free. With 85,000 downloads of the former and 100,000 downloads of the latter (and counting!) the pair have been attracting much attention.
Their third album THE ASH & CLAY (ampersand and not ‘and’) has just been released but this time on the independent record label Anti-. Anti- has allowed them the artistic freedom to tread their own path and seems a good match for this Californian duo. Through extensive touring, initially on America’s west coast and then as openers for the Lumineers, Old Crow Medicine Show and the Punch Brothers, the Milk Carton Kids are building their own devoted following and are now getting national exposure on both sides of the Atlantic. A recent appearance on ‘Conan’, interviews on NPR and national airplay on the BBC have all served to bring their music to the attention of a wider constituency and a clamouring for tickets to their live shows.
Tonight’s appearance in London naturally showcased material from the new release. The album features close harmonies, delightful finger picking guitar, intricate chord changes and has received critically lauded reviews. Two voices, two (vintage) guitars, two microphones, two sets and two songs without microphones came together and made for a magical evening. The intimate setting of the church was ideal for their plaintive voices and brand of harmony fuelled contemporary folk; the sound mix was finely balanced and suited their subtle tones well.
During the performance, the audience also got to experience the Milk Carton Kids’ droll sense of humour – we were told just before the interval that the second set would be exactly the same as the first but not to worry as our tickets were valid for both sets! In earnest teacher mode, Ryan stuck to his guns and explained, in some detail, the etymology of ‘ampersand’ – believe me when I say you just had to be there!
Towards the end of the evening, the duo moved away from the microphones and performed two songs at the front of the aisle between the seating – one of my many highlights was the delicately delivered Stealing Romance.
The church was filled with reverence for this up and coming duo; yes they have made a big impact in a relatively short time but with good reason. London warmly awaits their return visit! Jela Webb