Live Review: The Milk Carton Kids, Union Chapel, Islington, London – 20th May 2023

What can I say about this duo? They have already appeared four times on the Americana UK website this year, and on numerous previous occasions. In fact, there is plenty to say about their live performance because it’s been four years since they played in the UK, and this sold-out show was billed as the launch of the new album which AUK reviewed here.

It’s just Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan on stage with their acoustic guitars and banjo, and one shared microphone. They are able to reproduce the flawless singing and playing on their recordings between the two of them, because most of their albums have little embellishment. They played for 15 minutes before we had our first taste of their witty between-song banter and story-telling. This comprised of a humorous and heartfelt welcome to the support artist, Jessica Hoop, who joined them on ‘Monterey’, the title track from their 2015 album. There are important logistical considerations when singing with Pattengale and Ryan, because everyone shares the single microphone. Jessica is not naturally tall, but she was able to rise to the occasion in every sense – by wearing platform shoes.

The first song from the new album was the opener ‘All of the Time in the World to Kill’. I was half expecting them to make a joke about this not being the next James Bond movie theme song, but they didn’t. That would have meant explaining what the song was really about, and this is something they never do. They performed seven of the ten songs from the new album including the title song ‘I Only See the Moon’. This is a solo performance from Pattengale, and the song was recorded on the album without Ryan’s involvement. As you would expect there was a wry account from Ryan of how this came about and his evaluation of the song gave new meaning to minimalism.

There were several amusing stories about the making of the songs, but nothing about the content of course. The story that got the most laughs (and every story got a lot of laughs), was about their quest to get an emergency guitar repair in London’s Denmark Street. I was tempted to give you a flavour of this story, but I don’t want to spoil it for those of you who go to see them on the rest of their world tour. I’ll just mention that it involves the second-floor premises above a shop on this street, well known to local and touring musicians.

John Smith came on mid-set to perform with them on ‘Unwinnable War’, a song from one my favourite albums ‘All the Things That I Did and All the Things That I Didn’t Do’.  They also performed ‘Younger Years’ from this album.


The first encore was ‘Charlie’, an old favourite originally recorded by Pattengale when he was a solo artist. The closer was ‘Will You Remember Me’ from the new album. Possibly a song inspired by young love? We will never know.

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