The Milk Carton Kids | Credit: Courtesy

At the Lobero on August 31, the Milk Carton Kids put on an intimate, delicate yet gritty performance. They took advantage of playing a small venue by engaging with the audience whenever they could. The dry banter between bandmates Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan has become somewhat of a staple for their live shows.

“This may be the weirdest part of any show we’ve done — ever,” Ryan laments after engaging the audience in an impromptu quiz about Pasadena. “We’re quizzing the audience on questions about another city.”

“Why are you doing this?” Pattengale asks.

“It says ‘talk about Pasadena for 10 minutes’ on the set list,” Ryan answers. The audience laughed boisterously at every joke, and every time, the venue would come alive with buzzing energy.

The duo opened the show with “I Meant Every Word I Said,” both standing at the same microphone. Having to share made the show feel much more intimate and created a further sense of unison between the movements of the two performers. Pattengale was much livelier, bringing energy to the stage, and Ryan seemed to keep the presence grounded by swaying slowly to the songs, in sync with Pattengale. The next few songs all were slower, including standouts “Younger Years” and “Broken Headlights,” and things picked up more with “Undress the World.” It almost seemed as though Pattengale and Ryan’s stage presence balanced the way their music did, the yin and yang of what makes their music unique: emotionally charged instrumentals with soft and delicate harmonies and melancholic songs with comedic banter.

What struck me the most, and what stood out during this show and others I have attended, was the sheer appreciation and passion the band had. They reiterated multiple times that they were so happy that they were able to tour again, and they even stated later on that they didn’t even know if they would “ever be able to tour again.”

“Michigan” was their first encore song, and Haley Heynderickx joined to lend her vocals. The way they all leaned into the one mic for the three-part harmonies felt so magical, like they were orbiting around it. They would all lean in at the same time, then out. It was incredible to see two acts of a show come together at the end, something I always wish to see at shows but rarely do.

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Toward the end of the set, Ryan asked the audience, “Did you hear about how all those houses on the coast are going to be gone soon?”

Well, at least they got to see the Milk Carton Kids before their beach houses reach their impending doom.

Heynderickx opened the show with just her guitar and a set of acoustic songs, each interlaced with a goofy sense of humor disguised with a soft voice and deadpan tone. She shares her tribulations of the day: an oral spray of Vitamin C mistakenly sprayed onto herself; how she notices that beautiful, old women order decaf coffee, and now she does. She proceeds to share how she has now cathartically been released of said tribulations by sharing them.

Heynderickx continues with an array of songs sung with her powerful and dynamic voice, including standouts “No Face” and “Drinking Song,” as well as an experimental song she made from the perspective of a ball in “Big Red Ball.” Toward the end of her set, Heynderickx shares that she remembers “the moment when people didn’t look at you on the street,” and explains how, to her, “it was heartbreaking.”

While tuning for her next song, she tells the audience to “say hello to a stranger next to you during these 20 seconds.” When she’s done tuning, she says, “For those of you who did, and were uncomfortable, I’m so proud of you.”

She then started to play fan (and personal) favorite “The Bug Collector.” At the song’s conclusion, right as the rings of the guitar start to fade away completely, someone in the front row said, astonished, “Whoa.” That’s how that song felt.

That moment summed up the show perfectly.

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