THEY LEAVE US WANTING MORE
FLIGHT OF THE CONCHORDS TOUR OF NZ!
formerly NZís fourth most popular guitar-based digi-bongo acapella-rap-funk-comedy folk duo
at Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington
From 19 Jun 2012 to 21 Jun 2012
Reviewed by John Smythe, 20 Jun 2012
Such a happy homecoming! Like godwits, the Conchords have returned – in winter what's more, to make our long nights warmer, lighter and … did I say happier? Nothing warms the room like 2,000 smiles.
Even Arj Barker, the warm-up act (a segue Jemaine would feel compelled to point out the cleverness of), sees it as a homecoming because Bret and Jemaine became his bros as he played Dave on their Flight of the Conchords TV series, so we Wellingtonians are family to him.
His set covers saki, laser surgery, gaming as an educational tool, medical practice, the assumptions people make about him just because he is an itinerant comedian, why he likes hotels, a riff on ghosts (which gets applause for taking a dig at NZ Telecom), and his adulation of Peter Jackson regarding Lord of the Rings.
What I especially like about his style is he makes his satirical points obliquely, crediting us with the nous to get the point and laugh at his apparent expense. It's a triple whammy to laugh at him for being such a dick, at ourselves for being so clever and with him for having the wit to make us feel that way.
And so, post interval, to the main event: a far cry from the two dudes on high stools in a bare stage, cradling their acoustic guitars, muttering awkwardly into their mics between songs – that were all-the-funnier for the brilliance that contrasted their apparent naïveté and ineptitude (yeah right). It was 11 years ago that they graced BATS Theatre, after furtive gigs at Wellington's Thursday night Comedy Club and an off-shore try-out at the Canadian Fringe Festival in 2000. Yet now, in essence, amid the sophisticated light and sound effects that enhance their act, that comic simple innocence remains.
To a myopic Welliphile mediaphobe, Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clements' hop, as Flight of the Conchords, from Bats (90 seats) in 2001, to Downstage (240 seats) in 2002 with Folk the World, then High on Folk in 2003, and now this jump to the Michael Fowler Centre (2,200 seats) in 2012, would seem stellar enough. But of course there have been many steps in between.*
Once billed as “the world's foremost guitar-based digi-bongo acapella rap-funk comedy fold duo” then as “the almost award-winning fourth most popular folk duo in New Zealand”, their inescapable star status now would make such self-effacing descriptions seem ingenuous. I take it that's why they arrive from outer-space, as it were, clad as alien / spaceman / robots, to launch straight into ‘Too Many Dicks on the Dance Floor'.
The ‘robros' follow with their already-retro ‘The Distant Future' and ‘Human's Are Dead' before stripping down, not to the Tintinesque safari suits of yore but to basic shirts and jeans. ‘The Most Beautiful Girl (in the room) returns Jemaine to his dorky best as a self-styled Casanova doomed to lose. (An excellent lyric update here: “Cause you're so beautiful... [like] a high class prostitute / The kind that politicians use.”)
With their stories of life “on the road” they retain their extraordinary capacity to make mundane events sound like life-changing experiences. And although it seems random and by-the-by, these interludes are set-ups for later pay-offs – not least the Fish Story, which we are enjoined not to ask for and which will not, under any circumstances, be told. Such is the skill with which their casual and slightly klutzy demeanours carry a well-wrought show.
A new song to accompany the well known and old faves is called either ‘You Want Me' or ‘Sex Tips' and may or may not owe something to a video Jemaine made two years ago called Sex Tips from Kieran Vollard.
The warped tale of ‘Albi The Racist Dragon' is as fabulous as ever in Jemain's beautifully modulated story-telling tones, and brackets well with a rapper's ‘Hurt Feelings' – which provides an ideal cue for the New Zealand Sympathy Orchestra to join the pair in the shape of a hirsute and velvet-jacketed Nigel Collins. He plays the cello mostly by plucking a bass line, sometimes by bowing, and later will take to a keyboard and drum kit, adding excellent depth and breadth to the show.
Stirling work, also, by “Alex on lights” and “Matt on sound” (full names not available) who, my spies tell me, head up a touring complement of 20 no less!
Bret's ‘Jenny' and Jemain's Man sitting in the park is as brilliantly awkward as ever, as they offer their take on the classic theme of faking a ‘do you remember' conversation with someone you may have forgotten you knew if you ever did.
The urban angst of the self-explanatory ‘Inner City Pressure' contrasts splendidly with the madrigalistic ‘How to Woo a Lady' (a new one to me; I think it was born at Wembly Stadium in 2010) which takes us back to the summer of 1353 and captures the timeless nature of romantic seduction from woo to whoa.
Bret as Tony returns us to classic Kiwiana with ‘Bus Driver Song', a small town travelogue which reveals his tragically unrequited love for Paula Thompson. In a counter-pointing fit of generosity, all the ‘Ladies of the World' get something special, regardless of whether they're “ugly [or] skanky [or] small”.
‘Song for Epileptic Dogs' (from their series episode ‘Love is the Weapon of Choice') – which I take to be a reaction to endless requests for charitable donations – becomes an audience participation event. The MFC audience was very willing but the idea didn't fulfil its potential. If it's a piss-take I think it is misconceived. If not, I hope it can be worked up to pay off beautifully.
An opportunity is also offered for audience members to stand up and offer something back to the performers and no-one did last night. Call their bluff someone, please: bring your ukelele, trumpet or kazoo …
We're back to a pre world-fame classic with ‘I'm Not Crying (it's just raining on my face)' where the irony of a fork in the road than cuts like a knife exemplifies the word-play that invariably enhances their lyrics. The richness of their musicality is exemplified in the ex-rated and whimsically rhymed ‘Carol Brown': a litany of countless lost relationships of which the titular Carol is but one.
Brief reference is made to Bret's ‘Muppet Song', by way of Jemaine asserting he actually wrote it, but of course it doesn't get fully sung.
For a moment we think we're about the get ‘Mutha'uckas' but it morphs into another old fave, ‘Hiphopopotamus vs Rhymenocerous', followed by the even more revered homage, ‘Bowie's In Space' for which – with costume-change production values to rival Lady Gaga – they strip down to spangled lycra.
What better cladding for their glam-rock finale: ‘Demon Woman', satirising rock music's tendency to demonise women. (“They can talk!” you may riposte in reference to what they sing, but of course the misogynism inherent in some of their lyrics satirically shows up the sad inadequacies of the singer/character so it's not the same.)
The first encore, called ‘Back on the Road', for which they revert to basic jeans and shirts, ingeniously refers back to much of what has gone before, bringing a sense of dramatic resolution, or dénouement, to the evening. We also get ‘We're Both in Love With a Sexy Lady' to which Arj Barker contributes, and the full complement sends us off with ‘Sugalumps'.
Only as we leave do we realise that we have not heard their most popular YouTube hit, ‘Businesstime' – but then we can click on to that anytime. I'd have also liked to hear ‘Frodo Don't Wear The Ring' not to mention ‘Ou Est La Biblioteque?', ‘Sellotape' (the tape of love, the sticky stuff), ‘Angels' (in the clouds, doin' it) … the list goes on. They could have done another hour but doubtless they subscribe to the showbiz adage “always leave then wanting more” – and they do.
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*The steps in between have included award-winning gigs at the Edinburgh Festival (2002, 3 & 4) and Melbourne International Comedy Festival, a six-part radio series for BBC Light Entertainment in London, and the Aspen Comedy Festival (in Colorado, USA, 2005), which brought them to the attention of HBO. Since then a One Night Stand TV comedy show gig, a TV pilot, two seasons of their self-titled HBO cult hit TV series and sold-out live show tours across the United States and Europe – performing at venues like the Hollywood Bowl, New York's Radio City Music Hall and London's Wembley Arena – have kept them fairly busy. Not to mention getting married (not to each other) and having children. Plus quite a few roles, mostly separately, in various films at home and abroad, and the composing gig that won Bret a ‘Best Song' Oscar for The Muppets …
And they are just as good as they've ever been. But that's what it takes for a local act to fill New Zealand's really big popular performance venues because, as ever, we Kiwis don't believe our talent is as good as it is until the rest of the world affirms it.
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Russell Baillie (New Zealand Herald);
|Michael Wray||posted 21 Jun 2012, 09:26 AM|
They're obviously mixing it up a bit with the set list, which is good. For the second night at the MFC, we got 'Businesstime' and ‘Sellotape' but no ‘I'm Not Crying (it's just raining on my face)' or ‘Song for Epileptic Dogs'.