The Milk Carton Kids are one of those bands you feel more people should know about given their pedigree that allows them to pack out a venue like the Barbican. It’s been three years since the indie folk duo from Eagle Rock, California last played in the UK and while you could argue that nothing too radical has changed about their sound, the world around them certainly has, making them a breath of fresh, tranquil air in an environment which these days all too often feels loud.
Beginning with the opening track from their breakthrough album ‘The Ash & Clay’ from 2013, Joey (Ryan) and Kenneth (Pattengale) worked their way through their back catalogue taking in songs from the last 8 years including the sublime ‘Younger Years’ from their most recent record, the title of which prompted a wry diatribe from Joey about overly-long album titles. The banter between Ryan and Pattengale was one of the highlights of the evening – they waited four tracks in before they spoke to the audience or each other, but we were then treated to conversations about the difference between power and energy shakes, how low down the list of technical Grammy nominations they were and one particularly great story about Ryan’s nerves getting the better of him on their first TV performance. Sometimes artists chatting on stage can be excruciating but honestly, these two should do stand up they were that entertaining (and being corrected on your grammar in front of an audience is always funny).
The playing throughout the night was exemplary – Pattengale’s way with a guitar is particularly exhilarating to watch, and they’re accordingly one of those acts who would probably sound worse if backed by a full band. The Barbican’s acoustics fortunately gave full shape to the intricate detail of their sound which might be lost in a more generic venue. The evening closed with their best-known track ‘Michigan’ and the closing track from that first album, ‘I Still Want a Little More’ (as did the audience of course, so an encore followed). At around 80 minutes, it was a lean set but a spellbinding one all the same. With the Milk Carton Kids, in every way, less is definitely more.
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