Hailing from the same Los Angeles neighborhood that spawned Brando and Steinbeck, Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan represent one of the classiest acts touring at the moment. Suited up for the Sheldon ("This place is fucking nice," said Ryan at the top of the evening), the duo's two-part harmonies soothed like an ocean breeze. That they clearly enjoy playing bantering foils to one another refined the show even further; their comedic relief allowed listeners to laugh between sigh-inducing songs.
Every note of Pattengale's tireless picking and Ryan's James Taylor-incarnate calm were on full display thanks to the Sheldon's crystalline acoustics (that same clarity was less kind to opener Brian Wright, who compensates for atonality with charmed storytelling). The pair offered the sold-out crowd samples from each of their three albums, from the frisky "Honey, Honey" off of last year's "The Ash & Clay" to "Memoirs of an Owned Dog" from their debut "Retrospect."
The latter, a fare-thee-well from a dog's perspective as he heads to that proverbial farm upstate, left nary a dry eye, and the newer "On the Mend," with its lyrics about mice telling bedtime stories, proved the Kids' sustained skill for bending ideas as well as voices.
Unfortunately, hecklers' voices were also bent: on holding personal conversations with the band, spoiling much of the evening and giving yet another example of what threatens to be a trend.
Now, I've read that some of the accounts of heckling at recent local shows may have been exaggerated (B.B. King officially apologized this week for putting on a lackluster show in St. Louis, perhaps bolstering that claim), but there could be no exaggerating the crowd's interruptions last night.
From the very beginning, when Ryan came onstage to introduce Wright by way of a few soft-spoken words ("He's an even better songwriter than friend"), Ryan's very first sentence was drowned out by a shout of "Yahtzee!"from the balcony. Further calls of "Cheer up!" and "What're you drinking?" later peppered Wright's set, but the opener handled the hecklers good-naturedly, as if the concert hall were just another barroom in his Texan hometown.
Interruptions during the Milk Carton Kids' performance was a different matter altogether.
For the first 45 minutes of the duo's set, numerous members of the audience made their thoughts known during each and every song break, compelling the band to respond (affably) and ultimately breaking the cadence of the show. When one song break roused no less than four spectators to call out to the stage, Pattengale was finally forced to say, "We'll do the talking." Pointed though the remark was, Pattengale's gentility led the crowd to take it in jest. In short, they ignored it.
As the evening wound down, I thought back to something David Crosby once said from the stage: "We just want to thank you for so politely listening to our music." Coming from an outspoken artist like Croz, the comment was clearly ironic. But that irony also applies to Tuesday's concert at the Sheldon.
With unavoidable but deserved comparisons to Simon & Garfunkel and the Everly Brothers, the Milk Carton Kids also join groups like Crosby, Stills and Nash in sharing a singular blend of voices with audiences. How regrettable that some so-called fans felt obliged to add their own voices to that mix.