Live at Leeds City Varieties 28thJanuary 2020
Creating an atmosphere of rapt concentration, The Milk Carton Kids were able to step away from their microphone and perform a song directly to the room without a cough, sniff or even a breath being taken. Alone on a plain stage with a single, vintage-style microphone, the duo cut a sparse and simple figure. A single entity, they sang and played almost touching, melding their voices into one harmony and guitars into a multi-headed instrument. With Joey Ryan playing chords and Kenneth Pattengale on finger-picking, it was a perfectly mixed sound. It was apposite to hear this vintage sound in an antique theatre. Dressed in suits and very polite, if it weren’t for Joey’s long hair, they could have been two Mormon missionaries (a surprisingly common sight on the buses of heathen Leeds).
The sound this duo make is hauntingly beautiful, made purely of vocals and acoustic guitars. Having loved their last but one album (‘All The Things….’), I had wondered if being without a band would detract but it didn’t. Instead the sound was pure and clear. The set was artful too, more or less alternating slow songs with fast ones and blending the melancholically wistful with sweet love songs and with fun. The odd ripping solo got a wave of applause and there were plenty of belly laughs between songs. Joey and Kenneth have great shtick worked out between them and will rip on each other or take the rise from themselves. Is ‘All The Things I Said’ about how Joey hates Kenneth, or is it about the shamefully depraved state of Joey’s failing marriage? They don’t let on. Truth or bluff?
The set was drawn from across their career, from a twelve year old song that predates the band to the new mini-album / maxi-EP and all the songs are rather lovely. The sound is the thing though, and I’m reminded at times of both Simon and Garfunkel and of The Everly Brothers. At other times I hear gentle humour in the guitar interplay. It’s a superbly quiet and focussed set and over an hour passes without me noticing. All too soon it’s over, leaving me and I’m sure, everyone else wanting the same again. A enthralling and special experience, The Milk Carton Kids should sought out next time they come round.