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Things change for The Milk Carton Kids

Paradise Rock Club, Boston, April 30, 2014

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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For The Milk Carton Kids, life has changed a lot since they were last in town one year ago. First off, they were down the street at the Brighton Music Hall, drawing about 250 people. It's not as if the Kids - actually a duo of Joey Ryan (he's the tall one with glasses) and Kenneth Pattengale - had a hot new disc out as "The Ash & Clay" dropped more than one year ago. Chances are it's been word of mouth because that Brighton show was ultra solid. On this night, they drew a good 900 people.

Ryan, who also is extremely funny to the point that he seemingly could do stand up, said early on that the Kids tied a record for the second longest concert opening - four songs - without saying a word to the audience. He said the record was five, but that proved to be a "disaster." And he also said for the third time on this tour, the duo set an attendance record. Things are looking good for The Milk Carton Kids.

It's pretty easy to see why. There is not really anyone doing what they are doing. They started the show around a single microphone (they only used one the entire night) getting really close to each other and singing their trademark harmonies on "Hope of a Lifetime." The Kids didn't need to belt out their songs to demand attention. In fact, they rarely did.

Instead, it's the beauty of their vocal work that set them apart. Their delivery forced the crowd to listen to them. The Everly Brothers remained a potent, apt reference point for the Milk Carton Kids with beautiful harmonies throughout. There was a tenderness at work.

Sometimes Pattengale or Ryan would take lead vocals with the other providing backing vocals, but by and large, this was a duo hard at work singing in unison.

For the most part. Ryan was certainly the funny man again with a cleverly done introduction to buying their merchandise. Now all bands do sell merch these days and are obvious about pushing it, but Ryan deftly did the job. He cited the upgrade in deliverables this time around, indicating that their efforts in the "garment business" could be more important than the music. Somehow, the figure of an octopus appeared on their clothing, something not even Ryan could explain.

Ryan's humor cost Pattengale because during one song near the end, Ryan said something to break up his mate, causing him to laugh and forget the lyrics.

About the lone real misstep was an on overly long banter between Pattengale and Ryan about a small group of folks stage right who apparently could not see them so well. They went back and forth about the concept of moving the mic to be able to be seen, but that would have resulted in other fans seeing the backs of the performers. Frankly, it was getting boring, but thankfully they forged ahead with mic in place.

Good move because The Milk Carton Kids ended the 85-minute show strongly, particularly with a worthy reading of "Girls, Gather 'Round" before lighting into the encore of "New York" and "Memphis."

Pattengale expressed a heartfelt appreciation of the crowd, saying that they would be back if the fans came to see them. Based on this outing, seems like The Milk Carton Kids will have to keep their end of the promise.

Brian Wright, who occupies folk singer status, opened with a solid set. He's a keen songwriter in the tradition of Guy Clark where he uses his words economically to tell a story.

A few years ago, Wright was part of the Hotel Café crowd in Los Angeles, which went on the road with Ingrid Michaelson and Josh Radin among others and appeared at the Paradise. Since then, Wright has released two albums on Sugar Hill. He proved to be a warm, effective performer.