Milk Carton Kids: New York Society for Ethical Culture 23 April 2014

The Milk Carton Kids are The Smothers Brothers for today’s generation. Part folk singers and part stand-up comedy with sweet harmonies, great guitar picking, and dry wit. The comparison is not perfect but the Milk Carton Kids stand apart from their contemporaries with those ethereal harmonies and the ability to laugh at themselves when everyone is watching.

rtb had bought these tickets a while ago – I believe she is determined to see every act who performed in Another Day, Another Time. violaleeblue and rtb were already in their seats when I arrived at the New York Society for Ethical Culture. I’d done sound there before but had never attended a concert as a paying audience member. The setting is church-like and it’s intimate and has nice acoustics. There was only one mic on stage, which was enough.

Joey Ryan entered the stage and introduced Brian Wright while giving us a grand taste of his extremely dry humor. Wright continued in the humor vein with some amusing songs or sad songs punctuated with humor during his patter. Some of the songs like “Maria Sugarcane” and “Striking Matches” or “Red Rooster Social Club” stand out because of their subject matter and accompanying stories but I don’t think I’d want repeated listenings of any. He was a good opening act in that he got you ready for what would turn out to be a very special experience.


During intermission rtb, with her mad celebrity-spotting skillz, found Justin Long, the Coen brother not married to Frances McDormand, and the bassist from the Punch Brothers.

Ryan and Kenneth Pattengale enter and Pattengale places a doctor’s bag on a stool behind them. The bag is never touched and was only opened when someone yelled out, “What’s inside the bag?” and Ryan looked inside and said, “Nothing.” While Ryan’s suit looked like it was custom made for him, Pattengale came out in suit that looked like he napped in and did not wear a tie. They played four songs straight through before speaking and I was totally blown away by their perfect harmonies. Pattengale picks and plays very quickly and they both play with the Ear Trumpet mic (more on their gear here and in the comments section). They both play vintage guitars (1951 Gibson J45 and 1954 Martin 0-15) and they both play very well.

I wish I’d liked the songs better because their playing and singing was so perfect. I did close my eyes and just listen to their voices go around each other and the guitar surround their vocals and bring them in and take them out. They are very much an “in this moment” type of band for me.

And the humor. I was laughing as hard as I would at any good stand-up act. Some lines were rehearsed but many of it seemed organic. If it wasn’t, then they’re also brilliant actors.

(You can see an entire concert here on NPR. It’s their soon to be released DVD.



By Carene Lydia Lopez