My wife and I have been fans of New Zealand folk-parody band Flight of the Conchords since season one of their HBO series. When they announced a show at the Orpheum Theater last year, I tried valiantly to purchase tickets online right when sales opened. Unfortunately, the show sold out in a matter of minutes and I was left out in the cold. This time around, I was more fortunate (thanks to a band pre-sale). I was able to purchase a pair of tickets and surprise my wife with them on Valetine’s Day. As we watched the second (and final) season of their show wrap up, our excitement levels for the show kept climbing. Last Sunday, the day had finally arrived.
This time around the band booked Northrop Auditorium on the U of M campus instead of the Orpheum (though it might have had something to do with the fact that Leonard Cohen was playing there that night). We arrived early enough to park and scurry through the campus tunnels to the auditorium. After the obligatory stop at the merch table, we found our seats and settled in. The first thing I noticed about the stage was two large screens on either side. I also noted large manned cameras flanking the seating area. Since a large part of the Conchords’ appeal are their facial expressions and characterization, I was happy to know that we’d be able to easily see them from anywhere in the auditorium.
As we chatted and people-watched, waiting for 7:30pm to arrive, we were suddenly treated to a very loud alarm sound reminiscent of a car alarm. Like most people, we were not sure if this was a fire alarm or part of the show. Soon police officers entered and began examining the stage area with flashlights. People from the front began filing out and we knew that it was indeed an alarm. However, the ushers were still seating people and no one seemed to think it was a real fire. The alarm was soon silenced, only to start up again and repeat the on/off pattern for about 20 minutes. Finally, the alarm was fixed and the show began.
The performance began with the stand up observational comedy of Eugene Mirman, who actually plays a small recurring role on the HBO series. He opened by informing us that the alarm was a false one and thanking us for staying and not burning to death. His routine was actually quite hilarious (with the exception of his take on religion) and the audience was very much on board with his dry humor. But really, anything other than a loud alarm would have been universally praised.
Finally, Eugene introduced the main event and the lights went down. When they came back up, the stage was occupied by two men in cardboard robot costumes. Instead of opening the set with the expected “The Humans Are Dead”, they chose instead the 2nd season hit “Too Many Dicks on the Dancefloor”. From there Bret Clement and Jemaine McKenzie free-wheeled through a good mix of familiar favorites and newer songs. In between, they engaged in straight faced absurd banter and traded barbs with the talkative audience. Bret complained that an unnamed band member had been 15 minutes late for practice earlier that week, though he himself was also late that day. And actually they had walked to practice together.
While the dry wit that both Bret and Jemaine exude is amazingly funny, I was also repeatedly impressed with their musicianship. On TV you can never be sure if what you see is real, but these two have some serious chops. From guitars to synths to drum kits, Bret and Jemaine were in top form. They were joined on most songs by a friend from New Zealand named Nigel on the cello, who helped give their tunes some bass. I was particularly happy to hear them perform the song “Carol Brown”, a tune in which Jemaine recounts the circumstances under which all his ex-girlfriends left him. And of course, ending the main set with a cello-only rendition of “Sugalumps” was absolutely inspired. Bret and Jemaine let Nigel carry the tune musically while they preened and posed at the front of the stage, to the delight (and discomfort?) of those in the front rows. I’ve never seen so many camera phones aimed a one man’s crotch before (and I hope I never do again). When the band exited the stage to a standing ovation (punctuated by a communal “whooop” imitating the hated fire alarm), it was clear that an encore was in play. Sure enough, the band returned clad in skimpy, outrageous glam-rock attire for the song “Demon Woman”.
As we filed out, I thought about how this band doesn’t need an absurdly funny HBO series to stay in the spotlight. Their dry charisma, whip-smart song writing and genuine musical talent should keep their star rising and shining for a long time. And if it doesn’t, they could always go back to shepherding.
1. “Too Many Dicks On The Dance Floor”
2. “Hurt Feelings”
3. “The Ballad of Stana”
4. “The Most Beautiful Girl (In The Room)”
6. “Business Time”
9. “Bus Driver’s Song”
10. “Think About It”
11. “Carol Brown”
12. “Albi The Racist Dragon”
13. “We’re Both In Love With A Sexy Lady”
15. “Demon Woman”