The Milk Carton Kids Create Celestial Harmonies & Countless Laughs at (MIM) Musical Instrument Museum (SHOW REVIEW)

“It’s nice they didn’t notice I stole this guitar,” said an in jest Haley Heynderickx two songs into her 30-minute opening set for The Milk Carton Kids at Phoenix’s Musical Instrument Museum (MIM) on Friday, August 27th.

Heynderickx probably echoed the thoughts of almost every musician that hits MIM on its tour route, where a “vault” of over 15,000 instruments has greeted everyone from Mick Fleetwood to Steve Hackett in recent years. While it might indeed be tempting to grab a Danelecto Longhorn out from the glass, the other main attraction of the suburban sprawl museum is the 300 capacity theater with impeccable acoustics.

Heynderickx was without her regular bandmates on this acoustic outing that shined with her warm vocals that are Joni Mitchell meets Lucy Dacus. Cozy, creative, candid, charming, and cultivated are some of the many congenial adjectives to describe Heynderickx’ music. But enough with C’s, as this Pacific Northwestern knows her way around many keys and eccentric song themes

Whether it’s about starting a garden or ripping off John Fahey “Sorry Fahey,” or the apparent “bug collector” – Heyndericks sings like a siren, yet boasts an indie rawness with a scintillating musical aroma of frankness and bittersweet rage.

Headliner The Milk Carton Kids had no need to banter about any historic instruments, as they had plenty of material both musically and comically. Joey Ryan and Kenneth Pattengale sing angelic harmonies yet at the drop of a key change, rib each other like competitive brothers. Once the jokes and jabs end, the duo astonishingly turns off the friskiness and land voice-first into bygone celestial harmonies: how about that for a segue?

Standing clean-shaven, draped in dapper suits, and facing each other with one mic, it’s too easy to drop comparisons towards The Everly Brothers and Simon & Garfunkel. Yet perhaps the aptest comparison for The Milk Carton kids would be Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, another recording duo that flawlessly hits the note. The Milk Carton Kids are from Los Angeles, but their sound and soul evokes years and places beyond their urban residencies and middle-age years.

Opening with the slightly transcendental opener “Younger Years,” Ryan & Pattengale made a chilling opening statement where they harmonized the chorus of “held out my arms,” while one played waltzing lead guitar (Pattengale), while the other (Ryan) strummed the rhythms reliantly and patiently. 

One of the duo’s earliest numbers “Broken Headlights” delivered another sepia-toned melancholy nostalgia that murdered with its euphonious chorus of “fast cars with their broken headlights/run the red lights in the canyon.” Soon to be followed the duo showcased another helping of ear candy with the tuneful “The Ash & Clay” that charmed with its minimalist grace.

While the Milk Carton Kids deliver knock ’em dead melodies and songcraft, the biggest paradox again is the comedic post song banter between Ryan & Pattengale. Ryan plays the straight guy delivering dry observations, while Pattengale, no stooge by a longshot, plays the foil, but can also swing in a hit on the witty Ryan.

This evening’s banter ran the gamut from coaching little league baseball to $1 vs $5 tooth fairy visits and how a certain riff always reminds Pattengale of Adam Sandler’s “Hanukkah Song” -which then dove into an observational rabbit hole about the festival of lights.

And while the two continue to entertain with wry observations, they again upped the ante by jumping into the emotive song about death (“A Sea of Roses”) perhaps written around Pattengale’s recent and successful bout with cancer. 

“Everyone says we sound just like The Everly Brothers, but we try not to,” said Ryan before paying respect to the recently deceased Don Everly with a spirited rendition of the pioneering duo’s “Asleep.” “Secrets of The Stars” brought more  sparse echoey folk as did of the last songs in the set “I Meant Every Word I Said” This breakup song can be interpreted as our country’s endless battle with the pandemic and politics when the duo harmonize “I don’t want to fight anymore..”

For the encore, the duo invited Heynderickx back to the stage for a rousing version of “Michigan,” which had shining three-part harmonies on the chorus. And for the closer, Heynderickx strapped on Ryan’s guitar and they treated the MIM to a well-suited version of George Harrison’s “Behind That Locked Door” from the heralded All Things Must Pass LP. Pristine acoustics, good-natured pleasantries and soaring harmonies gave this billing a perfect match for a night at the museum.

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