The Milk Carton Kids

The Milk Carton Kids at Joe’s Pub

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The Milk Carton Kids (MCK) headlined Joe’s Pub last night. We bought tickets ages ago. We caught their first ever NYC show (after they officially formed MCK) almost five month ago. Sadly, we missed two NYC shows between then and last night.


My post about that NYC debut show went into great detail describing the group, each of their individual styles, how we came to know them, what their business model is, etc. Rather than repeat all that, if you have interest in knowing more about them (and how great I think they are), please read that post.

I’ll add a few thoughts about last night’s show.

We love Joe’s Pub, in particular since the internal renovation (the exterior still has a ton of work left and the kitchen reno hasn’t even begun). The sound system was perfect (it usually is), so there was no distraction or straining to enjoy MCK.

Joey and Kenneth are always funny, with Joey typically doing much more of the talking. Last night, Kenneth piped up more often. It was an edgier, biting humor (I’m being polite) that won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. Joey’s responses/reactions to it were priceless, so in the end I was fine with it too. It will be interesting to see whether this was planned/calculated and will be repeated, or whether it was extemporaneous and fleeting (I’m hoping for the latter, even though I laughed).


They were truly amazing last night (not a single complaint). That said, I believe the Rockwood show in October 2011 was technically better.


Joey and Kenneth are very good friends with another top guitar player, NYC-based Adam Levy. In addition to giving guitar lessons, Adam tweets guitar tips on a regular basis. I doubt they changed their styles as a result of anything Adam tweeted publicly, but I was struck by the fact that they are the perfect poster boys for Adam’s advice. Specifically:

Don’t watch your hands.Nothing to see there.Look around-at audience, fellow musicians, the scenery.

As incredible as both are on the guitar (completely different styles), neither ever looks at their hands/guitar while they’re singing. They rarely look down when they’re just playing either.

I can’t find the set of tweets that covered this next tip, so I’ll paraphrase and butcher it, sorry:

If you play acoustic guitar, unless there’s a really good reason to (which there rarely is), don’t use pickups and an amplifier, use a microphone to amplify your guitar. It makes everything simpler, less things to travel with and less things that can go wrong.

MCK do exactly that. Four microphones on stage, two for their voices, two for their guitars. They can travel lightly (which in this business, means simplicity and money-savings). When Kenneth wants to tune his guitar, he steps a few feet back from the mic. He doesn’t need to dork with pedal boards, electronic tuners, signaling the sound guy that he’s about to unplug, etc.

If you’re interested in more of Adam’s tips/lessons, look here.

Here is the set list from last night:


MCK had an opener. It’s extremely rare for most of the clubs that we frequent to make any announcements (headliners or openers). At some point, one or more people are on stage, milling about. You hear a bunch of “check, check”, some tuning, but mostly, you hear the crowd carrying on, ignoring what’s happening on stage. Then the lights get a bit dimmer, and the person or group on stage either starts playing, or perhaps they say hello and introduce themselves.

In an even rarer event than the venue making an announcement, Joey Ryan (1/2 of the MCK) came out and gave a moving introduction of the opener. We know from past experience that Joey is a class act in every respect, so this wasn’t a surprise in terms of his behavior, but it was a surprise to have anyone mention the name of the opener before they hit the stage.

Trevor Menear is a solo singer/songwriter, accompanying himself on the acoustic guitar. I’m typically a big fan of this kind of music (having come of age to Bob Dylan) and I can see Trevor’s appeal in that regard. As good a job as he did, for whatever reason, I wasn’t particularly drawn to his songs.


His guitar play was quite good when he wasn’t singing (during the bridges, or intro/closing), but was less polished (for the most part) while he was singing. That said, later in the set he switched to finger-picking on a couple of songs, and I shifted in my seat to pay more attention. He has skills.

I enjoyed his set, but I wouldn’t normally run out to see him again. Given how much Joey promoted him (at the end of the MCK set as well), he’s worth another listen (or two, or three), to see what I might be missing. Trevor is currently touring with MCK, so if  you’re about to see them, you’ll see him, and can form your own opinion.

After the set we got to say a quick hi to Joey. Lois snapped this photo of Joey with two of our other favorite musicians:


Then we bumped into Philip Ettinger. I’ve written about Phil once before and mentioned him in another post. Phil is an actor that you all better keep an eye on, he’s going places, mark my words. Of course, we forced him to pose for this shot:


Lois forced me to pose for one as well:


Another fun evening out seeing great music. Back for more music starting Sunday at 5pm (Zach Jones at Rockwood 1), then Rebecca Haviland on Monday night at Rockwood 2 (7:30pm).

The Milk Carton Kids at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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The Milk Carton Kids (MKC) headlined their first ever NYC show last night, at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2. MKC is comprised of two individual stars, Joey Ryan and Kenneth Pattengale.



Before MKC was formed, we were huge fans of Joey’s work and attended as many shows as we could. A few of those shows had Kenneth as a guest. The two created magic. Thankfully, they recognized it too (the audiences knew it instantly) and they decided to combine their efforts and talents as MKC.


They both:

  • are excellent songwriters
  • have wonderful voices (each sings really high when they harmonize with the other)
  • play the guitar wonderfully, in complementary styles
  • are self-effacing
  • hysterical (though Joey speaks more than Kenneth on stage)

Before MKC, they played mostly Joey songs, with a couple of Kenneth songs thrown in the mix. Now they play a couple of each individual’s numbers, but they have written a lot of new music together. All are a delight to listen to.


They each sang lead on roughly half the numbers, with the other always harmonizing quite a bit. Joey finger picks his acoustic guitar beautifully, occasionally switching to rhythm.


Kenneth Pattengale is one of my favorite guitarists. It’s ironic that I caught him on a night when I just saw back-to-back exceptional guitar players (Greg Mayo and Adam Levy). Kenneth’s style is different than both of them (though Adam on occasion comes closer to Kenneth’s style).

Kenneth is wicked fast, buttery smooth and most important, extraordinarily interesting. Those are facts (indisputable, I command you to stop reading this now if you disagree!). What’s as impressive to me is that his brain is creating these sounds (concepts) and then directing his fingers (which never fail him). I am at a loss for words (now that I’ve written the ones before these). Winking smile


While Joey is finger picking, Kenneth is dancing in an around it, creating a mesmerizing sound.

That you could hear a pin drop in a crowded Rockwood 2, a place hardly known for it’s quiet, is a testament to the fact that I am not alone in my reaction to their set last night. Thunderous applause (at times during the songs, when Kenneth completed a lead), mixed with utter silence while they were singing. Exactly as it should be.

The only thing I know about the economics of the Music Industry is that for 99.9% of all musicians, it sucks. The only thing worse than how hard it is to make money, is how hard it is to get noticed. How nice it is that if you finally get noticed, you likely will continue to struggle financially. Sad smile

Joey is one of a number of artists who decided to experiment with breaking out of the cycle (even before MKC was formed). After creating some amazing CDs and EPs, he started giving away all of his music for free. There were zero catches. You didn’t even have to give your email address. You want his music, you get it.

MKC has continued that model. They’ve put out two albums already (one live, one studio). Both are available at their site for free download (Prologue and Retrospect, down the left-hand column). If you want to support the band, you can purchase them on iTunes. You can buy physical copies at shows. But clearly, they don’t expect to sell too many copies (please prove me wrong!).

This model requires them tour like crazy, which is exactly what they do. Recall that I said that getting noticed is the biggest problem. You can be crazy talented and tour like a fiend, and still play many shows in front of tiny audiences. Their concept is to try and get their music distributed (and discovered) as far and wide as possible, so that when they show up in your town, you’ll be excited to go see them play (and you should be excited!).

Another way to make money in the music business is through licensing. It’s difficult to get noticed in that arena too. Perhaps giving away your music will get it on the radar of people who place music in TV shows, commercials, movies, etc.

A year ago, we took our godson and his now-wife to see Joey in Birmingham, AL at Workplay. They really liked him a lot. I later told David that Joey made his albums available for free download and David grabbed them and listened and loved them (as I do). A few weeks ago David called to say that he was pretty sure he heard Joey’s voice in a Nature Valley commercial. Sure enough, he was right. Recognition, that’s what it’s all about!

Every couple of weeks, Kenneth tweets his road statistics (proving just how committed they are to the grueling life of a traveling musician). This is his most recent one:

kpattengale Kenneth Pattengale

Away = 202 Home = 76 #NightsInMyOwnBed2011

Ouch! On the other hand, I think it’s required, in particular with the model that they have chosen.

Go grab their music, go see them in your town (they’re all over the place, all the time) and judge for yourself.