My day kicked into gear at the Pandora Discovery Den/Americana Music Association showcase, where Joey Ryan of The Milk Carton Kids asked their 2 p.m. audience members, completely in earnest, what everyone was doing up so early. As far as two-person acoustic folk efforts go, the Milk Carton Kids get everything right while adding a measure of dark comedy that complicates the low-hanging-fruit comparison they invite to Simon & Garfunkel. In terms of harmony-laden balladry and strikingly symmetrical hair volumes (Ryan would be Garfunkel to Kenneth Pattengale’s Simon), the duo crafts gorgeously precise folk gems while punctuating each number with deadpan comic banter. After nailing Dave Rawlings-level picking solos, Pattengale plays the straight man while Ryan riffs self-consciously about the band’s volume (“Is the sound too deafening out there? You guys better strap in…”) and its commitment to correct punctuation (“This next song, ’Honey, Honey,’ is our most grammatically observant song”). Standout numbers “Snake Eyes” and “Girls, Gather ’Round” left nostalgic baby boomers and wide-eyed young ladies (myself included) nearly swooning.
Following the mawkish folk outfit Field Report, British troubadour Billy Bragg delivered a cheeky set of politically committed songs and spoken commentary. On stage, Bragg resembled an avuncular working-class union leader, sporting a jaunty casquette beret and playing up his cockney accent as he covered Woody Guthrie’s “I Ain’t Got No Home” and sang his own lyrics about Margaret Thatcher, Wall Street, and Jesus Christ being a socialist. During his Guthrie cover, Bragg interjected an apropos line about Obama’s drone program usurping funds from public schools, which, unsurprisingly, drew impassioned cheers from the crowd. Bragg’s skillful yet conscientious performance illustrated why he’s still relevant after 35 years in the business.
Two younger bands, Denmark’s Indians and L.A.’s Local Natives, provided divergent yet equally compelling offerings at Paste’s Stages on Sixth and Mohawk’s outdoor stage, respectively. Indians is the brainchild of Søren Løkke Juul, who projected strident upper-register vocals over gorgeously modulated electronic samples, creating kaleidoscopic reverberations that nicely offset the threat of late-afternoon sunstroke. Local Natives closed out a lineup at Mohawk, preceded by Cold War Kids’ competent indie pop. Having just released their sophomore album, Hummingbird, Local Natives kept the audience’s blood pumping well past 1 a.m. with their high-octane indie pop. Late-set numbers such as “Airplanes” and “Sun Hands” had well-versed fans shouting lyrics into the wee hours with devotional fervor.