Conchords Take Flight Yet Again – and Soar to New Hilarious Heights
Flight of the Conchords are the best New Zealand Folk Comedy duo that you’ve never heard of. I know that what I just wrote will bring a disbelieving scoff to most of you, and actually writing it made me feel slightly ridiculous, but trust me, from Business Time to Rhymenocerous vs Hiphopopotamus their musical catalogue is filled with proverbial diamonds-in-the-rough. From deadpan delivery to lyrical genius, the band have been turning heads since they broke onto the comedy scene 15 years ago with an appearance at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. So, what makes the Kiwi duo of Brett McKenzie and Jemaine Clement so fantastic?
As mentioned previously, Flight of the Conchords first broke onto the UK Comedy relatively recently. But it wasn’t until their self-titled television series that they rocketed to, maybe not mainstream, but certainly “indie” level success. The show tracked the duo as they tried to make it as musicians in the US of A (think The Mighty Boosh but New Zealand). Starring Brett, Jemaine and Rhys Darby as their heart-in-the-right-place but somewhat useless manager “Murray”, the show had a wonderful-but-weird sense of humour and made the duo alternative fan favourites. But it’s their live performances that are the jewel in this comedy crown, although the United Kingdom still proves to be an elusive venue, having only toured this emerald isle a handful of times. This tour is the first time in eight years that they have travelled to the UK, which is a reason behind the sell-out tour, including three consecutive appearances at the O2 arena, which disappeared within seconds of the tickets going live. I was lucky enough to see them, not only once, but twice, and boy was I treated to a heck of a performance.
Before I indulge myself in a decadent description of the Conchords glorious performance, let’s start with the opening act. The duo elected Irish comedian David O’Doherty to serve as their warm-up, and what a choice it was. O’Doherty, a very successful comedian in his own right (most notably from “8 out of 10 cats”) started the show in a wonderful way, sitting alone with a keyboard at the front of the stage. His warm Irish accent and melodic tones were instantly juxtaposed against the screaming of the word “Death” as he proceeded to list famous names who were deceased, coupled with, of course, jokes and puns. O’Doherty told a musical monologue of pure comedy, the details of which I won’t indulge so as to encourage you to see him live yourself, that set the tone for an evening of outright hilarity.
Then came the Conchords.
The duo strolled on stage as if they were entering their parents living room, truly casual and relaxed, an atmosphere that they continued throughout the entire show. To call the performance “unpolished” would be an understatement, with mistakes made throughout, this just played into the persona of Flight of the Conchords. In fact, in my opinion, these minor calamities added to the performance because of the improvisational comedic moments that always followed, truly showing that all of their comedy isn’t entirely scripted.
It’s always difficult for groups like Flight of the Conchords to choose a setlist and keep every fan satisfied. Because they have such an expansive selection of songs to choose from, without even mentioning the new material they wish to showcase, there will always be some tough decisions. What did impress me, however, was that they decided to play only one “old” song in the entire first half of the gig. The group opened with Father and Son, a new track to the UK audience, that mocks a ballad between father and son. It holds vintage Conchords humour in leading the audience one way before totally diverting them with one line of pure comedy, “It’s been hard since your Momma died, but we can be a family just you and I // You know very well Dad that Momma didn’t die, she just ran away with another guy”.
It’s at this point that I really want to highlight something about Flight of the Conchords that may often be overlooked; both McKenzie and Clement have an obscene amount of musical talent. This fact often doesn’t get recognized, as comedy fans seek to focus on the lyrics rather than the melodies, but both members of the band are incredibly skilled songwriters and musicians and deserve a lot more recognition than they currently receive. During the gig, both members were swapping instrument almost every song, with a vast array of them on stage to choose from. From guitars and basses to piano, synthesizers and even the flute, both McKenzie and Clement deserve a huge amount of praise for their musical prowess.
Following the first track was another new piece, which I dubbed “Office Romance” but is officially called Ian and Diana, and describes a sexual relationship between co-workers. They commented on how McKenzie normally takes the female roles in their songs and Clement the male, however in this track they switched, to hilarious effect, as McKenzie overemphasizes the masculine part. The lyrics are, as always, exquisitely written “Is that a tent in your pocket? // No that’s a two-person cottage”, and the sudden appearance of overdrive on the guitar part, coupled with a legitimate rock guitar solo, really aids in the comedic over-representation of McKenzie in the male role. It is one of my favourite new songs from the pair, most definitely worth the listen for die-hard fans.
The next track was more of a story told over music, as opposed to an actual “song”, and was called Stana. Another new piece, it was set as a western about an evil man called “Stana” whose name was an anagram of Satan, or “Satanagram”. Again, the duo demonstrated their comedic prowess during this number “Santa comes down your chimney and gives your children presents // Stana just cums down your chimney” and were also accompanied by the “New Zealand Symphony Orchestra”, which was just a man called Nigel on cello. Another fantastic new track that really shows Flight of the Conchords have not finished writing their finest tracks.
After this, they played their first “classic” of the night in Carol Brown. This is personally one of my favourite tracks because of its simplicity and lyrical intelligence “Mona, you told me you were in a coma!”. The duo showed they still have the confidence to play their classic hits as well as their new material and weren’t afraid to change some of the minor lyrics in the song to better reflect the current time as opposed to the time when the song was actually written, a factor that was probably lost on most of the audience but something that I particularly enjoyed.
They finished the first half with The Summer of 1353, a medieval ballad of “wooing a lady” that humorously discusses the middle ages, “It takes more than going Wooooooo, to woo a lady”. It uses the ever-tried never-bested combination of the blunt satire of Clement and feminine quality of McKenzie, and ends with both members of the duo, and Nigel (the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra), all playing different harmonies of flute solos, which is something of a confusingly beautiful sight.
I don’t want to ruin the entire performance by comprehensively describing all of it, so I’ll summarise the second half in a slightly briefer fashion. The duo played a lot more of their classic pieces, featuring such hits as Inner City Pressure, Foux du Fafa, Mutha ‘Uckas, Hurt Feelings and of course Bowie’s in Space. These will no doubt stroke the infernos of excitement in true Conchord fans, and were pleasantly separated by new numbers Chips and Dips, The Bus Driver Song and Back on the Road. Whilst perhaps not as strong as their earlier “new” tracks, they were by no means bad songs and kept the audience on their toes.
The duo finished with a very strong encore. It started with a foray into a new genre for the group, as they play a funky Jazz number, to the name of Shady Rachel, with a beautifully comic story over the top of it. The band demonstrate their unique brand of humour for one final time, “There was Rapey Jake // He was a convicted sax offender”, and they really show that they did save the best till last. To conclude the band performed their first song from the tv show, and one of the biggest fan favourites throughout their entire repertoire, Robots. With slight changes, namely spot-on impressions of the Terminator and C3PO, this was an anthemic climax to an unbelievable performance, and truly a priceless experience.
Flight of the Conchords may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but irrelevant of preference they deserve far more recognition than they currently have, not only for their comic ingenuity, but for their unbelievable musical prowess, and ability to put on one hell-of-a-show.