The Milk Carton Kids Sound Right at Home at Town Hall

September 14th, 2015

Milk Carton Kids – Town Hall – September 11, 2015

To get to Town Hall in Manhattan, you first have to navigate your way through the glitzy, flashy capitalistic minefield that is Times Square. Stepping off the street into the simple, historic theater is to experience two facets of this city in stark relief. That dichotomy perfectly set the stage for the Milk Carton Kids show there on Friday night. The duo flipped between goofy, hilarious comedy and simple, gorgeous Americana music with the ease of just stepping off the street and into a comfortable theater seat.

After a warm-up set from Kacy and Clayton, sounding like two-thirds of Peter, Paul and Mary and a fun, surprising intermezzo set of jazz, the Milk Carton Kids—Joey Ryan and Kenneth Pattengale—took the stage with two acoustic guitars and a single microphone between them. They reeled off beautiful folk tunes, like “Shooting Shadows,” from their recently released LP, Monterey. Town Hall was originally a venue for conversations, dialogue and debate, which was a good fit for the Milk Carton Kids. Their music felt like a conversation: voices going back and forth in sweet two-part harmony, the guitars engaging in searching dialogue, and Pattengale’s long, flowing solos finding counterarguments in Ryan’s accompaniment. While Ryan played the straight man during the beautiful guitar parts, the roles were flipped for the between-song banter, which was more vaudeville comedy routine than “How ya doin’” pleasantries.

Expounding on the duo’s children—born and unborn—the proper intro to “Poison Tree” and a host of other topics, Ryan drew hearty laughs from the crowd. Still, it was the music that kept the audience in an awed hush over the course of a set highlighted by “The Ash & Clay,” “Asheville Skies” and the new record’s excellent title track. A standing ovation brought back the pair for an encore that opened appropriately with “New York,” off 2011’s Prologue, their sound at its most Dylan-esque. After effusive thanks, the Milk Carton Kids closed with a cover of Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here.” Ryan and Pattengale made the well-known material their own, drawing out its heart and beauty. While the song may be one of the all-time sing-alongs in the history of the acoustic guitar, the crowd barely stirred, sitting as attentive, pin-drop silently as they had been all night. —A. Stein | @Neddyo