The Milk Carton Kids | Union Chapel | 22 January 2016
The Milk Carton Kids aren’t what you’d call, in the traditional sense, a triple threat. Sure, they can certainly sing, their two voices harmonising angelically around a single microphone. But instead of excelling at acting and dance, they’re phenomenal musicians. And stand-up comics.
They intersperse immaculately crafted, poetically literate songs of heartache, longing, and “the clouds moving over Pontiac skies” with laugh out loud stories of dog-perpetrated gun violence and life on the road. And instead of diluting the audience’s reverence for their music, the duo’s dry, self-deprecating humour only highlights the beauty of their songs.
Like Kenneth Pattengale capping off Joey Ryan’s hilarious take on the beauty of childbirth with a deadpanned “This is our song about death” before launching into the haunting ‘Snake Eyes’. Or the rapturous applause that greets Pettengale’s fancy fretwork on ‘Heaven’ prompting a mock-hurt Ryan to declare: “I can do other things.” Or Pettengale (“the squat one”), finding solace in the inevitable but reductionist comparisons with Simon & Garfunkel by deducing that “the tall one” must be Garfunkel. Or the revelation that, while Pettingale wrote the delicately touching ‘Charlie’ for his unborn daughter, he hasn’t actually met her mother yet.
But for all the comedy, tonight’s really about the music. And the besuited duo routinely stun the capacity Union Chapel audience into silence with just their warm voices and vintage acoustic guitars. Songs like the yearning ‘Asheville Skies’ and introspective ‘Secrets Of The Skies’ from their latest album, ‘Monterey’, are greeted with as much quiet adoration as the majestic ‘Michigan’ (with its refrain of “You took the words right out my mouth”), uplifting ‘I Still Want A Little More’, maudlin ‘Memphis’, and joyous ‘Honey Honey’ from the back catalogue.
Their emotional heft is hard to top but a graceful, tender rendition of the nimble ‘New York’ and simply lovely reimagination of Pink Floyd classic ‘Wish You Were Here’ — backed by genuinely heartfelt gratitude from the two men on stage — do just that, ending a sublime evening on a rousing high.