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  • Writer's pictureBridget Buckley

The Milk Carton Kids Master Class on Stage Banter

If a baby koala and a baby meerkat teamed up and had mad guitar skills, killer harmonies and banter reminiscent of The Smothers Brothers, then you'd have a folk duo with maybe of 5% of the coolness that is The Milk Carton Kids.

MCK (I don't think I can call them that) did not come onto my radar until watching the 2013 music documentary, “Another Day, Another Time: Celebrating the Music of Inside Llewyn Davis” and I somehow feel cheated for not knowing about them sooner. In a musical moment of pure brilliance, members Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan left a room filled with musicians like Marcus Mumford, Justin Timberlake, Gillian Welch and mega producer T Bone Burnett stunned, speechless and teary eyed.

Their intensely pure, two part harmonies coupled with their guitar playing superiority, was nothing short of mesmerizing. The musicians in that room knew it and appeared to question their own talent and place in the music universe because of it.

But it's one thing to have a talent that knows no bounds and another thing all together to deliver it live with entertaining vigor using only two guitars, two voices and one mic. A few nigths ago, as I watched a replay of their Austin City Limits performance from February 2014, I was reminded of the wickedly dry, vaudevillian level banter. They have a funny bit when introducing the song "Charlie" that deals with the lyrics of the song and Pattengale's future daughter.The video below is from a show in Germany 2013 (because the ACL video isn't on youtube) and it seems the bit has been going strong for several years. It may have been around for a while, but they deliever the joke in a way that seems like it is the first time they are telling it.

I think the art of quality banter is lost on many bands. Yes, audience members come to shows for the music, but they like to feel as if they are invited into the inner circle of a band; invited into a moment that cannot be replicated again in some other city at some other venue. It has to be more than than the pedantic, “How are you doing tonight Chicago?” or the prosaic “You’re looking great out there San Francisco!” or the ridiculous, “We’re gonna play a slow one.” Seemingly without even trying, Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan have a quality of banter and audience interaction that actually elevates their music…which is saying something because they already far exceed any normal human levels of talent.

One of the best examples of them working a crowd can be seen when they appeared on Conan in June 2015 and were told to “fill the time” (which was obviously a planned ploy for them to be funny).

Be sure to check out The Milk Carton Kids, if not for the banter, for the music...but beware, you may leave feeling like a witless idiot with no talent. And that's okay. Embrace it. We all have God given gifts and just thank God Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan share their double helping with world.


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