HBO's hit comedy series Flight of the Conchords documents the trials and tribulations of a dry-witted New Zealand folk/pop/rock duo as it tries to make it big in New York City. The Flight of the Conchords (Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie, playing themselves) perform songs on the show that fit the strange situations they find themselves in week after week. Their songs often reference characters from the program, but they also work out of context, as last year's self-titled album (a collection of the songs from the show's first season) proved. It shouldn’t come as a big surprise that the songs work just as well onstage.
On TV, Jemaine and Bret seldom play to a crowd that includes anyone other than their one stalker fan, Mel (Kristen Schaal, who's also opening the group's current tour). Last night at Kent State University’s MAC Center, the guys played in front of a capacity crowd of several thousand.
Opening with the synth-poppy “Too Many Dicks on the Dancefloor,” the Conchords took a stripped-down approach to the tunes, sitting on bar stools and playing acoustic guitars for the majority of the 90-minute set. Their banter, which seemed ad-libbed since they often took on hecklers, took up almost as much time as the music. While it's easy to dismiss the band as a novelty (the hilarious “Bowie” is a spot-on spoof of David Bowe’s Ziggy Stardust phase), the music works on several levels.
"Hiphopopotamus vs. Rhymenoceros" and “Mutha Uckas” featured tongue-twisting raps that showed off the duo’s extensive vocabulary. And ballads like “The Most Beautiful Girl (in the Room)” and “A Kiss Is Not a Contract” (which they played after a fan yelled out for it as a request) are kinda tender, despite their goofy lyrics.
And while the guys joked that everything they did during last night's concert was scripted, that clearly wasn’t the case. They certainly couldn’t have known that a couple of fans would show up wearing the robot outfits that Jermaine and Bret sported in a memorable episode. And they couldn’t have known that those costumed guys would get up and dance frantically when the duo played “Robots.” Jemaine and Bret had fun with the robot fans and directed more than one joke their way.
Much like Tenacious D, Flight of the Conchords riff on many of rock's clichés. And like Tenacious D, they’re smart enough and funny enough to do it in ways that transcend novelty-act trappings. After last night's entertaining performance, that's more than obvious. —Jeff Niesel