Say what you will about The Milk Carton Kids’ old-world acoustic folk music — they know how to put on a show. On Thursday night, the SoCal duo returned to the Lobero for the third time, their first in the headliner position. As such, the show had a subtly celebratory air to it, from quirky start to big, standing-O finish.
The evening began with a set from North Dakota–bred singer/songwriter Tom Brosseau. For those of us born and raised on the West Coast, Brosseau’s particular brand of Middle America folk seems not only of another time but of another world. Alone with a guitar, he interweaves personal stories of his upbringing into nearly all of his hushed, gently plucked songs. And as far as arresting moments go, his “Hard Luck Boy” took Thursday’s top prize with its powerfully heartrending tale about how Brosseau was abandoned by his mother in a Midwest department store.
For the evening’s second act, Joey Ryan and bandmate Kenneth Pattengale did more than pull their weight as headliners. Over the course of an hour and a half, the Kids zigged and zagged all over their catalog, delivering just enough big, breakneck-speed fretwork (“Honey, Honey,” “I Still Want a Little More”) to keep things lively. Of course, as fans will tell you, the band is at its best in the quieter moments in between, and Thursday’s show offered no shortage of gentle, resonating selections. Of special mention was the lyrically rich opener “Hope of a Lifetime,” “Stealing Romance,” and the late-set oldie “Memoirs of an Owned Dog.”
Still, it’s the way Ryan and Pattengale interact — in and out of song — that makes a Milk Carton Kids show a truly memorable experience, and on Thursday, the duo’s mix of unspoken musical interplay and Penn and Teller–style banter was firing on all cylinders. Revival music rarely sounds so good.