Flight of the Conchords - Birmingham N.I.A.
Two dim-witted New Zealanders try to break the hip-as New York music scene as their country's '4th most popular folk parody' export. If someone would have told me a couple of years ago that this would be the making of my new favourite TV show, I would have had OMG-face. As it happens, Bret and Jemaine aka Flight of the Conchords found a home on HBO and brought musical sunshine and profundity into my life. Tickets were snapped up as soon as news broke that they would be taking a break from their resident New Zealand and the craziness of the States, where their unique brand of sonic tomfoolery has happily found huge success, and it actually feels a little bit like Christmas Day upon taking my seat at the cavernous NIA.
Despite the promise of a support appearance from Kristen Schaal, giving kooky comedy a new slant as the Conchords' sole fan in her onscreen guise Mel, she has been replaced by fellow friend of the show Eugene Mirman. Although not as integral to the show's storylines as Schaal's obsessive stalker, Eugene provided laughs as the duo's weirdo landlord and continues to make with the funnies during a twenty minute set that features enough self-deprecation, Jew references and jokes about autistic deities to inspire belly laughs even up in the cheap seats.
This ain't the Comedy Fix though, so I'll move on to our headliners, the inimitable Flight of the Conchords. Opening with the Daft Punk dance ditty Too Many Dicks (On the Dancefloor), Bret and Jemaine arrive on stage accompanied by a lightshow and purposefully rubbish robot gear (we're talking cardboard boxes on heads) and deliver this wang protest rave-up in their own unique manner: we'll call it Kiwi-style. After this upbeat intro, the unassuming pair explain the phenomenon behind their opener, that of there being too many dicks on the dancefloor, and take to their stools looking like the most unlikeliest rock stars ever. In no time, they and their guitars are wooing us with Prince-referencing The Most Beautiful Girl (In the Room) and self-pitying urban jam Hurt Feelings ('Get me a small man's wetsuit please!') and the unlikeliness continues; despite this, there are frequently declarations of love dispensed from the sold-out crowd and people are singing along. Heck, there's even a lighter held in the air for the deeply moving wakeup call Epileptic Dogs. Their onscreen characters may share the same off-the-wall ditties, but in Real Life both the personas and their creators are treated with god-like awe.
It's not hard to see why; their gentle yet dead-on ribbing of musical cliches is smart, silly, frequently hilarious and an oh-so-welcome rug-pull in a world where everything seems to have been done a hundred times before. Hiphopopotamus vs. Rhymenoceros is the funniest rap piss-take you'll ever hear (sample rhyme: 'I'm the Hiphopopotamus, my lyrics are bottomless... [insert strained silence]'), while power ballad I'm Not Crying has the audience wetting their faces and pants. The duo's musical ability and melodies are not in doubt; the way they riff on musical styles as varied as Barry White come-on (Business Time) and Greensleeves-style madrigal (1353) is inspired, and their ability to alter their delivery for maximum comedic effect results in gems like the pretty comedy-of-confusions Jenny and the Parisian tête à tête Foux da Fafa ('Le coq sportif... BAGUETTE!'). The pair are joined onstage by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, aka celloist Nigel (the other two members couldn't make it) and, between themselves, often drop their guitars for drums, toy piano, and even a recorder; in the TV show, they often make hard work of plucking their guitars.
Despite their evident musical flair though, these Kiwis are primarily in the business of making people laugh and so the setup is pretty simple: funny song, funny chat, funny song, rinse, repeat. In between their musical masterpieces, the pair dispense rock 'n' roll anecdotes ('Remember that time with the complimentary muffins?') and good-naturedly heckle back an audience that seem intent on making a lot of sheep noises. Theirs is a lo-fi style of comedy, frequently dry and open to ad-libbing; indeed, at one point Jemaine launches into a reprise of Hurt Feelings when one Mel-like potential groupie bellows, 'I LOVE YOU BRET!' Perhaps the highlight of their standup act is an insanely funny - and potentially bad taste - time-travel tale where the boys dispense relationship advice to Tina Turner ('What's love got to do with it?') and then bump into David Bowie, providing setup for crowning moment Bowie, an interstellar romp that results in the twosome stripping to sparkly, spangly Ziggy Stardust catsuits. This is followed by the cock-rock excess of Demon Woman, wherein an extra dose of over-exaggerated posturing ends in the quaintest instrument-trashing ever witnessed by man.
The encore illusion was ruined earlier in the evening when Jemaine informed the audience Business Time was being kept for that most pointless of pretentious rituals, but it does give the lads time to get changed back into their Average Joe duds and the audience the chance to get even more amped up and rowdy. There are notable exceptions in the tracklist - where art thou Boom, Robots, Inner City Pressure and I Told You I Was Freaky?! - but their goodbye is as good as it could possibly be. Following early rarity Busdriver's Song, Bizarro-universe kids' morality tale Albi the Racist Dragon precedes the angry yet expletive-swerving gangsta rap of Mutha'uckers. 'Last but not least' couldn't be more apt when referring to the cherry on top: the smooth R. Kelly-esque love-battle We're Both in Love with a Sexy Lady morphs into a breakdown of the salacious My Humps-aping Sugalumps. The levels of hysteria - from lasses and grown men alike - reaches boiling point as the duo, doing their best Boyzone impersonations, jump off the stage to deliver their heartfelt ode to their own testicles to the front row; life imitates art when another over-zealous Mel-alike jumps up to dance with them and they hilariously incorporate their resultant mortal terror into the song, but it's a sign of how good the vibes are on the night when the security guard merely dances the woman away back to her seat. Bret and Jemaine eventually struggle back up to the stage, which they sheepishly admit didn't seem as high prior to jumping, and the latter's previously spangly bottom half is once again exposed as security helps him up. Any act who end their spectacular live show with the accusation that 'even security wants a taste of my sugalumps' is worthy of breaking NYC and the world besides in my eyes - and Mel's, of course. Long live the Conchords, may they continue to fly high!
Too Many Dicks (On the Dance Floor)
The Most Beautiful Girl (In the Room)
Think About It
1353 (Woo Song)
Hiphopopotamus vs. Rhymenoceros
Ladies of the World
I'm Not Crying
Foux du Fafa
Albi the Racist Dragon
We're Both in Love with a Sexy Lady/Sugalumps