When Flight of the Conchords last appeared live in the UK, they were a cultish if celebrated musical comedy duo playing relatively modest rooms to those in the Edinburgh Fringe know. A few years later, with two HBO series behind them (admittedly tucked away on BBC Four), a few dates at the Hammersmith Apollo couldn’t meet demand in the capital – only Wembley Arena can hold them now.
Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie aren’t really the type of bombastic rockers or
big-production pop stars that normally fill this space though – they’re resolutely and charmingly lo-fi. There was one costume change - glittery cat-suits were unleashed for Bowie’s In Space and Demon Woman - some nifty lighting for the Daft Punk-esque stomper Too Many Dicks On The Dancefloor and the addition, for a few songs, of cello, drums and piano-playing Nigel (introduced as the travel size version of the New Zealand National Orchestra) but apart from that, it was just the two of them, sitting on stools, singing songs.
But what songs. Without many distractions, even in a barn like Wembley you got to really concentrate on the quality of the lyrics and the brilliance of the musicianship; FotC might be known as a comedy duo, but here they were a proper band. With Bret’s intricate guitar on The Most Beautiful Girl In The Room (a triumph in back-handed compliments), Inner City Pressure’s stunning synths and rhymes like “They call me the Hiphop-apotamus cause I got flows that glow like phosphorous”, these are finely crafted and consistently hilarious songs which, performed live, really get their chance to shine.
All of the tracks which have appeared in the TV show were rapturously received, especially Jemaine’s sublime Barry White slow-jam Business Time (complete with recorder solo) which was a real highlight, and most were dotted with different and extra lines to provide new laughs – the best being the introduction of “You could be a plus-size model” to The Most Beautiful Girl In The Room. But other songs which haven’t had the same exposure clearly won over the newer fans too. Jenny, a favourite from the Conchords’ pre-telly days about an awkward case of mistaken identity brought belly-laughs, and a song set in 1353 got one of the best reactions of the night.
Between the songs, it has to be said that Jemaine gives more of himself than laid-back Bret and as such gets more in return – the bulk of the protestations of love from the audience are aimed his way. But as is the case with all great double-acts, the magic lies in the chemistry and it’s the rapport based on years of obvious friendship that makes the banter (or ‘professional talking’ as they put it) such fun – most memorably a brilliant extended riff on the duo’s attempts to resist going down the slippery slope of rock and roll excess by accepting a free muffin.
When the inevitable calls for "Series three!" came, Jemaine made the good point that another series would mean not being able to come out on the road, and on this evidence that would be a real travesty. This gig was a showcase for the duo’s superlative songwriting skills, and the sooner they can return to the stage – where they are so clearly at home – with new material, the better.
Written for MusicOMH, where I couldn't really write OMG CONCHORDS WERE AS GREAT AS I'D HOPED. But I can here. Because they were.