On Thursday, October 1, 2015 I had the joy of attending my first full concert by The Milk Carton Kids. I had previously seen them at an interview session and three song performance at The Grammy Museum in May upon the release of their album Monterey. There was a brief meet and greet afterward, where I was able to get my album signed by Joey Ryan and Kenneth Pattengale and share my appreciation for their music with them. After that little teaser of a show, I was extremely excited for a full performance at The Theatre at Ace Hotel (formerly United Artists Theatre).
The show began with Joey Ryan appearing on stage to introduce the opening artist, singer/songwriter Joe Pug. Joey gave a lot of praise to Joe as a lyricist, remarking that if he were to ever have tattoos of song lyrics, then they would be those of Joe Pug. Joe certainly delivered on that statement as he performed a set of seven songs that were thoughtful, poetic, and introspective.
The set contained the songs: “Burn and Shine;” “I Do My Father’s Drugs;” “Stay and Dance,” which he said he wrote after seeing the Milk Carton Kids in Austin, TX; “If It Still Cannot Be Found;” “Bright Beginnings;” “Pair of Shadows,” which he introduced as a love song; and “Hymn #101.”
He had a great conversational manner as he adeptly introduced songs and gave insight into some of the numbers. He joked that though his father is referenced in “I Do My Father’s Drugs,” that in no way did his father endorse or approve the song. The song I liked best that he played was “Stay and Dance.” My attention was immediately piqued by the first verse: “Don’t take everything they say to heart; Don’t pick every unkind word apart; It’s a brave new world, but some things still hold true; The seasons change and people change their tune.” These lyrics reminded me of part of a book I read recently, Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements; the second agreement is to never take anything personally. I also enjoyed the flowing fingerpicking of the guitar on this song.
The Milk Carton Kids opened their set with the song “Hope of a Lifetime,” from their album The Ash & Clay. From the first notes they mesmerized the audience with their beautiful close harmony singing, Joey’s rock steady rhythm guitar playing, and Kenneth’s amazingly fluid cascade of guitar runs. Also, can’t help but love that Joey plays one of my favorite sounding guitars, an early 1950s Gibson J45 (his is 1951). Kenneth plays a 1954 Martin 0-15 (the handkerchief tied on below the capo is there to remove fret buzz). The next song, “Shooting Shadows,” was the the first one they played from the new album, Monterey. After two ballads, they changed up the tempo for the lively song, “The City of Our Lady.”
Then came the first break in the music. One of the fun things about seeing The Milk Carton Kids in concert is the Smothers Brothers-like banter between Joey and Kenneth. Joey addressed the audience to introduce their song, “Charlie,” which clearly owes a higher percentage of its writing ownership to Kenneth. The song lyrics entail Kenneth’s vision of what his daughter will be like. Joey, in his characteristically dry, deadpan manner, teased Kenneth thoroughly for having written such a song when Charlie does not yet exist or even have a mother assigned to her! It is a sweet song, though the topic is highly idealized — the high hopes for the personality and disposition of the child and the relationship she will someday have with the father. Sorry to say, Kenneth, these dreams can be crushed heartlessly in reality.
The next couple songs played were “The Ash & Clay” and “Heaven,” after which Joey noted that he sometimes feels jealous of Kenneth (alluding to his awesome skills as a guitarist). He appended that statement with “I can do things Kenneth can’t do.” An audience member grabbed the bait and shouted, “Like what?” Cleverly referencing back to his earlier speech regarding “Charlie,” Joey zinged a response, “I have a kid; I make my own people.”
After much laughter and cheers, the concert continued with the absolutely beautiful number, “Asheville Skies,” whose lyrics were pulling hard on my heartstrings that night: “I’d love nothing more than to cover my face, forget who I am and get out of this place, pretend to be someone other than me, and go on living that way.” They followed it up with another gorgeous song, the title track, “Monterey,” from the latest album.
There was another section of banter, this time involving a story of learning to play the drum (rather than drums), Kenneth suggesting never to read about yourself on the Internet if you are part of a folk duo because people say awful things (I’ll try to be kind), and comparisons to Simon and Garfunkel (Kenneth quipping, “at least we know who Garfunkel is” while not-so-subtly looking toward Joey). Following this break, the duo launched into another set of three songs: “Secrets of the Stars,” “Getaway” and the spirited “Honey, Honey.”
Joey then delivered a monologue about the overlooked role of men in childbirth, touching on the societal denial of the emotions men may experience and the hardship men face when their loved ones are birthing a child (particularly as it related to Joey when his wife gave birth to their son). It was difficult to tell how much of it was serious and how much was tongue in cheek. Not sure what kicked off that narration, but oddly, it was a predecessor to a “song about death,” “Snake Eyes.”
The first time I ever heard any music by The Milk Carton Kids was when I watched their NPR Tiny Desk Concert; the first song they played was “Michigan.” After the verse and one chorus in, I was hooked for life. . It is also the first song on the first album of theirs that I listened to, Prologue (which, by the way, is free to download from their web site), and was the song I had stuck in my head the most prior to the concert. Very happy that they played this song at the show I attended. It would have been my single request, were requests granted.
They closed the main set out with another of my favorites, “I Still Want a Little More” (from which a pulled the title for this post). It was a great opportunity to once again showcase how jaw-droppingly amazing Kenneth is on the guitar. I have to give credit to Joey too, as the listening level between these guys must be intense, and he never misses a beat.
The gents briefly left the stage (never even got out of the wings) before returning for their encore. They played “New York,” another fantastic tune from Prologue. Then they closed the show with an unexpected cover of Pink Floyd’s song, “Wish You Were Here.” What a stunning and wonderful night of beautiful music and much laughter! Special thanks to my friend Bob Seegan for the two snapshots used here (I inadvertently forgot my camera at home).