I was unfamiliar with the Milk Carton Kids before seeing them on NPR. I had always assumed they were a punk band with a name like that. Well, nothing could be further from the truth. The Milk Carton kids are a delightful folk duo. And they give the origin of their band name a little later in the Concert.
Joey Ryan sings lead and plays rhythm acoustic guitar. Kenneth Pattengale plays lead guitar and sings beautiful harmonies. It’s his guitar work that is so disarming because he plays leads throughout the songs, so rather than having the two guitars doing the same thing, his guitar is all over the place–playing beautiful trills and lines while Ryan is singing.
The first song they play is “Michigan.” I love how in the middle of the song between the melodies and the harmonies it sounds like about three different bands—there’s a kind of Simon & Garfunkel vibe, a Jayhawks vibe, and maybe even a CS&N vibe–and yet it retains their original sound. There’s some beautiful melodies in the vocals and the lyrics are really good (but sad).
After the song, Bob asks about the neckerchief on Kenneth’s guitar. he says, “well it looks good.”
Then he explains that in a technical way, “This guitar is a bit crummy.” When they play higher chords the strings buzz, so the neckerchief keeps that from happening: “It’s practical and it’s alluring—this is what got Stephen to stop at our concert to listen.”
Kenneth then says that Joey usually talks more than this “I don’t know why he’s so demure today.” Joey deadpans, “I don’t know what demure means, but I’m, sorry if that’s how I’m behaving.”
Before the next song, Joey deadpans, “This is something we’ve been looking forward to for a long time. Hence our palpable excitement.”
They’re very happy to be behind this desk so “We’ll play you a love song to the desk. This song is called ‘To the Desk.'” The song is actually called “Stealing Romance.” They sing a duet with Ken taking the high notes. It’s a slow ballad. During the song you can hear all kinds of sirens going past the offices. When it ends, Ken says, “I think Joe Biden drove down the street during that one.” Joey reacts: “Who’s that?”
Then Joey explains the origins of their band name Milk Carton Kids. The name comes from one of their songs “Milk Carton Kid.” The song itself is named after a lyric in the song. He says it’s an attempt to answer the question that’s one everyone’s mind with a completely unsatisfactory answer. Then he says they’re not going to play that song.
Rather, they play “their happy song” “I Still Want A Little More”which proves to be really fast and uptempo—a real surprise after the other two songs. Ken is wailing away on his guitar while they sing in great harmony. There’s some rollicking guitars and singing. This is my favorite song of the three.
I don’t love their slower songs. Although as far as slow songs go, their setup is great–the harmonies, the interesting guitar. But I really like the two of them. They are great performers and excellent storytellers.
[READ: July 20, 2016] “Checking Out”
This story is bookended with a man planning on marrying woman.
Obinze is African, and he is in London on a work visa. He is arranging a sham marriage to be able to stay in the country. The arrangement has been set up by some Angolans. They claim that he is a friend of a friend and they’re doing him a favor, but they are keeping lot of the money that is meant to go to his bride.
When he met Cleotilde, he was surprised to see that she was young and pretty. And it seemed that she was pleased with him when she saw him as well-0ff. I guess expectations are pretty low in this situation. He was kind to her from the start, making sure that she was okay doing this. And she said she was–she really needs the money for her family.
Obinzne and Cleo meet up a few times to get their details straight, and he finds that he is really falling for her–although he knows he can’t really act on it until after the marriage.
Then we flashback to Obinze’s life in Nigeria. He always knew he would leave–as many do. He was certain he would live in America–there as no doubt in his mind. But when he tried to get a visa in Lagos, he was turned away without a second thought–fears of terrorism, his mother said. After several times, his mother took pity on him and said that she put his name on a visa for a trip to England (she was going away for a conference and claimed him as her assistant). He was embarrassed but couldn’t say no.
He got a job cleaning toilets.
Then he found out a friend of his was in London. So he looked him up, hat in hand. The friend, Iloba was so happy to see the man–his kinsman–that he invited him over. And then he hooked him up with a man named Vincent from Abia State. Vincent told Obinze that he could borrow his identity to get a proper job. The only catch was that he would take 40% of Obinze’s wages. That was way too much. He managed to talk Vincent down to 35%.
And then “Vincent” got a job fairly quickly as a delivery man. His boss took a shine to him (called him Vinny Boy), and the guys he worked with also seemed very nice–teasing good-naturedly and whatnot. He was amused by these working class British men reading their page 4 newspapers and talking about women and their knickers (which he found funny because in Nigeria, knickers were shorts, not underwear).
One day he came in and everyone was looking at him sideways. He knew the gig was up. But it turned out they were just teasing him because it was his (well, Vincent’s ) birthday. He had been fully accepted there.
Until the real Vincent wanted more money from him. And then things got complicated.
And that is probably the impetus for his welding needs.
Cleotilde seems so genuinely tickled by him–he bought her a dress and bought nice (even though cheap) matching rings.
I can’t really say how disappointed I was that things didn’t go as planned for them. Stupid realistic stories.