Milk Carton Kids at The Paradise

Matthew Shelter on May 2, 2014

Milk Carton Kids

Paradise Rock Club

Boston, MA

April 30

Slowly and steadily, the California-based folk duo Milk Carton Kids are making a name for themselves. Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan have been playing together for four years, but have seen their fortunes climb after their most recent album, The Ash & Clay, received a Grammy nomination last year. They are on the front end of a two-and-a-half-month tour, and were supposed to play a smaller venue in Boston but had the show bumped to the larger Paradise Rock Club to accommodate their burgeoning fan base. It was, they announced to the crowd of 900 or so, their biggest show to date. “We’ve played bigger rooms,” Ryan noted drily from the stage. “But with less people.” That will probably be changing, as most of the rest of the dates on the tour are already sold out.

Ryan and Pattengale play on a stage stripped of all the accoutrements of live music save a single mic stand resting between them. No amps or speakers, they utilized the house sound system. “We’re trying to set a record for the least number of decibels ever at the Paradise,” Ryan said. He and Pattengale dress conservatively, in grey suits and dark ties. With a nip here and a tuck there, they could be on a stage in 1964.

The duo opened with five straight tracks from The Ash & Clay, including “Hope of a Lifetime,” “Honey, Honey” and an excellent “Years Gone By.” If there’s a central message in their music, it may be this line from the album’s title track, which came early in the set: “What, oh, have we done, to run this country into such a sight.” Their songs, steeped in folk traditions, tend toward the dark. Particularly impressive at the Boston show were a rousing version of “Heaven” and the haunting “Michigan,” as well as a new tune, “Asheville,” which asks “Tell me what became/of what I left behind.”

It is not only Ryan and Pattengale’s voices that meld together so harmoniously, but their guitar playing as well, alternately delicate and urgent. The crowd was reverentially quiet while the duo were playing – so quiet, in fact, that one could hear the opening of beer cans at the bar – then would burst into applause at the end of each number.

The Milk Carton Kids current tour continues through July, culminating in an appearance at this year’s Newport Folk Festival.