Never before has spontaneous comedy seemed so effortless — and brilliant — in a musical performance
Comedy and music have always seemed to be slightly at odds with one another; there’s always this slightly underlying sense of novelty in humor-driven bands, a thought that without certain “gimmicks”, their work wouldn’t be nearly as funny, or that their jokes only appeal to a certain subset of popular culture. Artists like Reggie Watts manage to defy this expectation with deft aptitude; he is both a hilarious improvisational comedian and a brilliant musician in his own right, and the minimal nature of his performance adds emphasis to the stories he tells. The ability to shoot off jokes with rapid-fire delivery is, therefore, crucial in a concert setting; it reminds the audience of the brilliant wit and skill of the performers, rather than their ability to practice rehearsed jokes night after night. Nearly seven years after the release of their last album I Told You I Was Freaky, Flight Of The Conchords are still able to demonstrate these skills with flawless, side-splitting ease, and their live show is marvelous to watch — for both casual fans and hardcore ones alike.
Jermaine Clement and Bret McKenzie, the men who make up the New Zealand duo, appeared onstage just before the hour of 9:00pm, after fellow comedian Arj Barker had warmed up the audience with an excellent comedy set to start the evening. Despite picking up their instruments straight away, the pair took a bit to get into their first proper song, using the time to describe their trip to San Francisco, throw some casual jabs at one another, and generally to just unleash jokes at a furious pace, letting the audience get wrapped up in glorious applause minute after minute. This continued to be a theme, as the evening continued on; before every song, there was usually a mild introduction, often segued by a few jokes in reference to creating the song or touring around and performing it (and the response they received from playing it). Clement definitely broke his steadfast stare more than McKenzie, who resolutely continued on in his deadpan fashion as his bandmate was overcome with numerous fits of laughter. Their camaraderie, much like their delivery, was magnificent to watch; there was a sense of understanding akin to twins who finish each others’ sentences, and the pair built up and tore down their jokes with gusto and aplomb.
As for the songs themselves, the set was full of pieces old and new, and delight and hilarity were abound for both the most occasional listeners and the most diehard fans. Classics like “Robots”, “Foux du Fa Fa” and “Hurt Feelings” garnered roaring cheers and applause when they started off, but even their cult favorites were riddled with extra lyrics, clever delivery, and long improvisational bits, all of which added extra dimensions of surprise to the set. For new numbers, previously unheard by anyone in the crowd, each song became a madcap journey through the minds of Clement and McKenzie, as they created characters that were even more zany and outrageous with each new line of lyrics. It was impossible to tell which bits were added specifically in the moment of that evening’s performance, and which were part of the original story of the song, but it didn’t matter in the slightest; the buildup, the comedy, and the addictive pop melodies drove each piece fantastically, all with grace and style.
Perhaps the only drawn-out joke of the evening was the constant hinting that Clement and McKenzie were going to return for the encore, and indeed, their departure from the stage was so brief it might as well have been just a standard song break. However, to throw one final surprise in, the two men, joined bycellist Nigel Collins (introduced as “the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra” earlier that evening) ended with “1353 (Woo A Lady)”. A long-running live staple, it exploded into newfound hilarity when Clement, McKenzie, and Collins each took up a flute and traded solos back and forth. As the crowd continued to shake and shudder with laughter, Clement and McKenzie suddenly leapt into the air and went bouncing across the stage, each furiously blasting away into their respective woodwinds, hell-bent in their own Who-like stage destruction as Collins played resolutely on. Finally coming to rest back in their seats, the pair shared a final bow to the crowd, who jumped out of their seats to deliver a standing ovation and screams of delight, as the men of Flight Of The Conchords put an end to the show.
I’ve only ever been a casual listener of Flight Of The Conchords’ work; I’ve seen a few clips from the show, and listened to tracks like “Too Many Dicks (On The Dancefloor)” and “A Kiss Is Not A Contract” with great amusement, but never really had the compulsion to follow the group steadily. I am pleased that the comedy and marvelous art that their show and songs capture is delivered in spades in their live performance. Their grasp of lightning-fast humor and spontaneous delivery is magnificent; they can turn anything from an audience heckle to an out-of-tune string into an instant series of jokes, and then reel in the tangents before they’re too well-traveled. They are genuinely pleased to share their show with their fans, and it feels even more intimate than something like a tiny club show with a solo pianist; this is a pair of artists perfecting their craft, and allowing their onlookers into every stage of the process and every story that they spin. If they come to YOUR town, be sure not to miss them!