The Milk Carton Kids Bring Their Gorgeous Folk Back to Largo
Joey Ryan, one half of the Eagle Rock folk duo The Milk Carton Kids, is the most affable musician I've interviewed. During our talk earlier this week, he asked me as many questions as I asked him, making conversation about my out-of-state area code and how I liked living on the Westside. It seemed fitting, then, that Ryan started last night's show at Largo by playing emcee, standing onstage, guitarless, and sincerely talking up the opening act, The Barefoot Movement.
This kind of collegial support is what makes The Milk Carton Kids, who are both native Angelenos, such a successful and entertaining band to watch. Onstage at Largo, where they are playing two shows to promote their new album The Ash & Clay, Ryan and his bandmate Kenneth Pattengale have the kind of rapport that's built from supporting one another creatively: they mirror each other's deadpan inflection during their hilarious banter and introduce each other's songs with extensive commentary. When they lean in to plan their next move out of the audience's earshot, it's like looking at a well-crafted archway supporting itself from both sides.
Although much of their shtick involves one ribbing the other for being out of tune, Ryan and Pattengale's connection is clearest when they're playing music. Other outlets have compared them to Simon & Garfunkel and The Everly Brothers, and it's hard not to immediately make that association upon first listen. On The Ash & Clay, however, the duo are moving away from old-fashioned love songs and looking to other, bigger themes. "It was a specific mandate that we gave ourselves to focus outwardly rather than inwardly," says Ryan. "Various songs deal with the way we see our society, rather than dealing with relationships or self-discovery."
Whether they're performing a cultural meditation (on the album's title track) or a sweet letter to a yet-to-be-conceived daughter (on "Charlie"), the Kids' harmonies are tough not to enjoy—the adoring crowd at Largo is a testament to that. On playing in L.A., Ryan says, "We've had the best shows of our lives in Los Angeles, by far, specifically at Largo...Our hometown crowd used to be very heavily weighted toward family and friends, and now the family and friends are drowned out by people that we don't know, but there's still this sense that somehow we know everybody."