My introduction to the Milk Carton Kids comes from their association with Sarah Jarosz. See my review of Ms Jarosz, a rising talent on guitar, banjo and vocals: http://psychologyofeverything.com/2014/05/sarah-jarosz-mystic-theater-petaluma-ca-5214/
MCK are described as indie folk, possibly New Grass, a term I dislike but I suppose is better than Smooth Bluegrass. “Smooth” modifying any genre consigns it to the dust bin or its equivalent on any media I am using. Yet clever corporate entities have avoided this offensive category by using branding such as Unplugged via MTV and the Coffee House channel on Serious XM which to be fair are not true smooth versions of the originals. But I digress.
So with limited exposure to MCK’s performances, I was shocked to encounter a situation that reminded me of the old joke about going to a fight and watching a hockey game breakout. In this case just substitute “comedy” and “concert” and the transposition would be complete.
Making music for commerce is hard and comedy is perhaps even more difficult. To combine the two successfully puts one in a very small niche and I am not thinking of Victor Borge. No they are more akin to the fabulous New Zealand duo Flight of the Conchords. Both are groups are duos who seamlessly can riff comedically to the point where the music is almost feels like an afterthought.
It should come as no surprise that Prairie Home Companion, where MCK has guested, would be right up the Kid’s alley. Also aspects of their act have the sibling rivalry feel of the Smothers Brothers.
Although the Flight of the Conchords pair of Bret and Jamaine are proven sketch comedy masters as their HBO series amply demonstrates, the MCK’s act is actually, well, closer to Borge, in that Kid Joey Ryan has borscht belt timing at the ready any time the need calls.
One example: Mr Ryan quoted a statistics that in the last 10 years at least one person a year has been shot and killed by their dog while it has only happened once over the same time period with a cat. The difference between cats and the dogs is that the cat meant it. Ba-dahm-pa.
The easy back and forth between music and humor made me feel strangely taken care of. Like I was enveloped in a sea of good feelings that occasionally had a little bite, but no bile.
In a similar spirit as the yucks, the music was somehow relaxed even at its most fervent. At the end of each song I had the sensation of a pleasant aural state which not only lasted until the next song but also found way to build through the evening. Kind of the Napa equivalent of a well made 10 year old Cabernet with a lingering 60 second aftertaste.
Especially in their vocals Pattengale and Ryan projected emotion without ever straining. My concert companion noted they were reminiscent of Simon and Garfunkel. I’d say this was especially try in the harmonies as the words were not particularly discernible.
Playing two guitars without changing their actual instruments even once (how often does that happen these days when any self respecting roadie wears out a pair of shoes weekly helping the artist pick up a different axe for every other song). Pattengale is the show when it comes to playing. Just as Ryan has the comedic chops.
Pattengale must have the most active right hand this side of Nashville given that he eschews finger picking which is just about mandatory for the MCK’s musical tastes.
The evening ended with a cover of Roger Water’s and David Gilmour’s Wish You Were Here. Just lovely.
Milk Carton Kids are wholesome fun, but don’t be cynical and hold that against them. They even plugged the CD of their opening act, wunderkind guitarist Julian Lage, while not saying anything about their own Grammy nominated recorded work. Gotta like these Kids.
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