“Our confidence is high, we’re fresh off our third GRAMMY loss.” Joey Ryan, often the chattier of the Milk Carton Kids, greeted the audience with his characteristically dry, sharp humor as the duo made their second appearance at the historic Tarrytown Music Hall on February 24. On the heels of a long tour with a new, full group, Ryan and Kenneth Pattengale shed the larger band for a return to original form, featuring just two guitars and one microphone.
The well-crafted set contained a mix of songs, including those from 2018’s All the Things I Did and All the Things I Didn’t Do. Or, as Ryan put it to the audience, “ATTID and ATTIDD… for short.” Beginning with “Hope of a Lifetime” from 2013’s The Ash & Clay, the audience was lulled into silence by the Milk Carton Kid’s ability to envelop a space in rich, emotional soundscapes through Pattengale’s river-flow, unbounded phrasing, Ryan’s understated, sturdy rhythm and the pair’s seamless harmonies.
They then moved into “Mourning in America,” a song which captures poignant and timely modern themes. Revealing in an interview with Entertainment Voice that the song encapsulates cultural, political and personal struggles, a tear or two was spotted while the duo crooned, “I hear their cries through my window, they’re mourning again in America.”
The duo was able to shift their energy from “Snake Eyes,” the soft, weeping, ode to death which once brought a tear to Marcus Mumford’s eye, to the rousing, joyful pace of “Girls Gather Round” and “Honey, Honey.” Across each song, Pattengale’s impressive lead guitar phrasing was both technical and deeply passionate. His penchant for sweeping, single-note melodies and exploring unique sonic twists by adding out-of-the-box flats, sharps and harmonics shared a particular expressive virtuosity. All the while, his playing was threaded together by Ryan’s patient and supportive rhythmic root note picking and strumming.
Between songs, there was the schtick. Pattengale and Ryan have developed a reputation for combining music with the other aspects which make a performance so memorable — stage presence, banter, and maintaining a connection with the audience. Known for imbuing their shows with comedic tangents, their special chemistry in which they play off Ryan’s cool, confident sarcasm and Pattengale’s charming, observational wit had the audience laughing often.
This particular show included Ryan instructing the audience to put their hands up as he shared plans to include more hip-hop elements into their music (news to Pattengale), a conclusion to the tomato fruit vs. vegetable conundrum, and a particular exchange with a member of the audience accompanied by a service dog. Upon learning the dog’s name was “Daniel,” Pattengale quipped, “What’s your son’s name, Spot?”
Not that they didn’t have touching, tender moments. After sharing Pattengale’s recent journey in which he successfully persevered through a cancer diagnosis and long-term relationship break-up, Ryan softly suggested, “Let’s play your cancer song,” as they transitioned into “Sea of Roses.”
The duo is supported on tour by Vera Sola, an American/Canadian singer-songwriter, poet and multi instrumentalist who delivered a passionate and powerful opening performance, drawing from the moody, fingerpicking veins of Leonard Cohen. Sharing songs from her 2018 debut release, Shades, Vera Sola stunned the audience with strong, feverish storytelling supported by her unique voice which exhibited such a smokey, precise vibrato that it almost seemed like the microphone turned on and off every other second.
The duo ended the night with an encore cover of Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here.” Part of the reason the Milk Carton Kids are so enjoyable to see time after time is due to the earnestness in their desire to provide the audience with a complete experience, without asking for much in return. The only thing The Milk Carton Kids want you to do is listen, and maybe laugh, as they put everything, music and self, on display.
Catch the Milk Carton Kids in New York again later in their tour. For the first time, they’ll also be working with Music Masters Camps by hosting their own summer music retreat and workshop series. Learn more about Sad Songs Summer Camp.