Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Flight of the Conchords: Live at BU!

I've been affectionately critical of the Flight of the Conchords HBO show, but I've always had nothing but admiration for their live performances. That admiration was reinforced by their appearance at Agganis Arena, the stadium-size venue at my home school of Boston University [insert reference to Terriers hockey here], so much so that I may end up sounding like Mel in this post. I apologize in advance.

The Conchords took the stage in charmingly awful robot costumes (to perform "Too Many Dicks On The Dance Floor" rather than "Robots," oddly enough), then ditched the Daft Punk getup and settled down for the rest of the set. They both played acoustic guitar for many of the songs, but also included a variety of other instruments, such as a drum kit, keyboards and a glockenspiel.

Jemaine rocks the glock

About a third of the way through the show, starting with the song "Jenny," Bret and Jemaine were joined onstage by "the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra," a.k.a. a cellist named Nigel. Nigel remained onstage for the rest of the concert, providing a nice, unobstrusive musical accompaniment.

The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

The set list covered a nice range of Conchords material, from electronic club bangers to bouncy acoustic ditties. It generally avoided songs based heavily in the plot of the TV show and included a few numbers which have never been on the show at all, including one of my personal favorites, "Bus Driver Song." (Which almost makes up for that song's absence in the "New Zealand Town" episode... Almost.) The Conchords even managed to perform one song I had never heard before, "The Ballad of Stana," about an incredibly evil cowboy who meets a clone of himself. Very long and very weird. I loved it. I tried to get a video clip of it (in blatant violation of the show's camera policies), but the audio quality came out nasty, so if you're interested, there's a pretty crisp version of the song (being played in DC) here.

However, even the songs I had heard a million times before were kept fresh by the Conchords' nimble, improvisational performance style. The band never plays a song the same way twice--rather, they'll add brilliantly awkward quips into the lyrics, or even switch up the instrumental arrangements. And while most bands drop witty banter into the spaces between songs, Bret and Jemaine take the concept to a whole new level, discussing human pyramids, why whales don't use cell phones, and possible nicknames for the city they happen to be in. ("Boston Space"? "Boston Powers"? Bret insisted on "Boston City.")

And the icing on this concert's cake was the fact that the audio was mixed so well that I could almost always understand what the Conchords were saying. It's a quality one takes for granted, but the last time I saw the band live (at the Gramercy in New York--another great show notwithstanding this complaint) I got lost in a vocal muddle during any song I wasn't familiar with. Not so this time.

Eugene Mirman, the landlord on the HBO show, opened the show with enjoyable standup about Linens 'N Things, Delta Airlines and Detroit. ("Detroit has bears returning to the city. When your city is being gentrified by bears, that's a very poor city.")

Mirman was followed by Kristen Schaal, TV's Mel, who also did a good job. This picture isn't all that clear, but she was wearing glittering golden pants which she claimed to have "killed a genie" for.

Schaal ended her set by putting on costumes and assuming a few offbeat characters, such as a used mattress which wondered, "If you sent a werewolf to the moon, would he be a werewolf permanently?"

And here's the Conchords' set list for the evening. Underneath a few of the song titles I've included choice examples of improvisationary additions to the lyrics.

1. "Too Many Dicks On The Dance Floor"
2. "Hurt Feelings"
3. "The Ballad Of Stana"
--What would you do if you came face to face with yourself?... You'd become lovers, touching one another the way that you once touched yourself, but without the guilt, and without that feeling of, "I should probably be doing some work."
4. "Carol Brown"
5. "The Most Beautiful Girl (In The Room)"
--You could read the news on Fox.
6. "Jenny"
--Jemaine: It was something like but not necessarily Schindler's List.
Bret: It was Weekend at Bernie's Part 2.
Jemaine: I knew it was about ways different people deal with death.
7. "Business Time"
--When it's with me you only need about two minutes, 'cause I'm so intense. It's like love concentrate. It's like Tang.
8. "Mutha'uckas"
9. "Think About It"
--If you've got AIDS, think about what you did before you got AIDS and then don't do that again.
10. "Bowie"
11. "We're Both In Love With A Sexy Lady"
12. "Sugalumps"
13. "Demon Woman"
14. "Bus Driver Song"
15. "If You're Into It"

There are plenty of clips of the concert floating around YouTube, but here's a brief sample:

Good on ya, mates.

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