Thursday, May 08, 2008

Flight of the Conchords in concert review

As mentioned last night, I got to go see Flight of the Conchords play the second and final night of the New York stop on their American tour. Enough people asked for a review that I'll offer up some thoughts just as soon as I plan a New Zealand vacation, because, hey, why not?

The signature moment of the show came after Bret and Jemaine had finished their first song ("Inner-City Pressure") and were trying to figure out what to play next, as we were all witness to the following exchange:
Screaming audience member: "WHERE'S MURRAY?"
Bret (not missing a beat): "He's not here."
(Huge laughter from the audience, and, as it died down...)
Jemaine: "He's not real."
With that one-two punch, the following ground-rules were established:
  • These were not the TV versions of Bret and Jemaine, though they looked the same and sang many of the same songs. These were two sharp, wickedly funny guys who were quick on their feet.
  • The audience decided that they were now officially a part of the show, and would spend much of the evening -- usually, but not always, confined to those breaks between songs -- shouting out song requests (including, inevitably, the tool who called for "Freebird"), throwing the guys presents or trying to sexually proposition Jemaine.
Now, there were some pluses to the audience participation element. Early on, someone asked them to sing "Sello Tape." The guys nervously admitted they hadn't played it in close to two years (the version from the show was recorded months before filming even began) and were afraid of screwing it up, but with lots of encouraging applause, they launched into it perfectly, even nailing the between-verses banter (a story about working in a box factory with Bryan Adams and Phil Collins) without any obvious hitches. There were also some guys in the front row who brought their own props for the band to incorporate into the show: for "The Humans Are Dead," they gave Jemaine a bunch of toy robots; during "Albi the Racist Dragon," they threw jellybeans on the stage at the appropriate point in the lyrics; and during the encore-closing performance of "Bowie," they threw Bret an eyepatch (an homage to the episode where they sang "Bowie"), which he happily put on for the song's second half. Bret even joked at one point that those fans put more effort into the show than he and Jemaine had.

The downside of the "Rocky Horror"-ization was typified by the woman with the booming voice who decided the evening's sole purpose was for her to have a running conversation (from wherever her seat was, either in the back rows or the balcony) with Jemaine. When he sang a new song about all his ex-girlfriends, she called out that she would never hurt him like that, and she kept injecting herself into the show without somehow being removed by security. Though Bret and Jemaine seemed amused by all the audience call-outs at first, there came a point where they got tired of it, and Jemaine had to start flirtatiously shushing the crowd whenever it got too rowdy.

(One blog account of the show says he even held up the setlist at one point and said that it didn't include "Audience talks with FOTC" on it, but if he did, I didn't catch it; either my hearing's going, or they weren't mic'ed properly, because there were several points in the show, usually on the songs that I didn't know, where I had a hard time understanding the words coming out of their Kiwi mouths.)

But even with the audience getting over-involved, the guys put on a terrific show. Todd Barry, who played third Conchord/Crazy Dogggz frontman Todd in the first season finale, was the opening act and was dryly funny. (His best moment also came from a loud audience member, who warned him not to mock his home state when Barry began a joke about Alabama -- a joke that turned out to be entirely about how northeast liberals automatically assume the worst about places like Alabama. Barry let the guy have it for undercutting the whole point of the gag.) He also came out to play bongos on a performance of "Business Time," sitting in Jemaine's chair while Jemaine perched himself on the edge of the stage.

They performed most of my favorite songs from the show ("Bret, You've Got It Going On" was missing, though I hear they did it the night before), including "Hiphopopotamus" (done back-to-back with "Mother 'Uckers," even though Bret admitted they're basically the same song, musically), and "If You're Into It," in addition to the ones mentioned above. They also did "Jenny" (which I'm guessing they still haven't figured out how to work into the show), plus several new songs, the highlight of which was "I Told You I Was Freaky," which is either going to be the funniest or most disturbing video they ever do on the show. Perhaps inspired by fellow Crazy Dogggz member Demetri, they've worked a keytar into the act, and Bret at one point leapt into the audience for an extended keytar solo.

Though there was a lot of noodling around between songs (which no doubt encouraged people to yell out suggestions), and the banter was a mixture of them being in character (Bret discussing his desire for children) and responding to things happening around them (Bret's chair was dangerously wobbly, and after joking about suing Town Hall, he played one of the final songs while tipping back on only two chair legs while he balanced himself with a foot on the sound board).

Lots and lots of fun, and if tickets are still available at a theater near you, I highly recommend it. You can see photos of the show at brooklynvegan


Dan said...

I really want to love these guys, but I personally found their TV show stretched to absurdly unfunny levels. The material only just covered 5 episodes, and many of the plots were thin variations on the same basic story/jokes. I'm sure the concert was great fun if you're into them, but "comedy songs" leave me cold 90% of the time.

Hal Incandenza said...

Did they play a full version of "Rock the Party"? Is there a full version?

I'm guessing there was no "Cheer Up, Murray," either (which is pretty underrated).

Sounds like a great time. Shame they're not coming to Canada (maybe after Season Two).

Nicole said...

I hope they go north of the border too! I would love to see them in concert. I checked their website and the closest for me would be to drive to Ann Arbor tonight, which unfortunately is not possible.

Thanks for the concert recap, because it sounds like it was a great concert.

Theresa said...

At the Philly concert there was a request for Freebird as well, and Jemaine obligingly sang a bit of it. Someone also requested Rock this Bitch, and they said, "Um, that's not one of ours." The audience was pretty out of control here, too, and Bret took over the shushing role and worked it into the intro to Albi. We didn't get Sello Tape but we did get Bret, You've Got it Goin' On which offered one of the funnier moments of the show, I thought: they had used the "lyrics sheet" for their new song "Maybe You'll Stick Around", and Jemaine later used the same lyrics sheet for "Bret," which caused them to note, "Yes, it's the same sheet, but somehow the song comes out different." I had never heard "There Are Angels" before, and I thought it was brilliant.

xtina said...

I went to the show last night too - and loved it. I thought the two new songs were brilliant especially the one with the chorus of Jemaine's ex-girlfriends (sans the audience's vocal contributions, of course).

I was sitting two rows directly behind the prop-thrower and she (I think) had props for nearly every song the guys played. Including the ones you mentioned, Alan, there was also tape for "Sellotape," a stuffed hippo for "Hiphopapottamus vs. Rhymenocerous," plastic cutlery for "Issues," and a t-shirt for "Business Time." She also had a box of something, but I couldn't see what it was supposed to be, museli, maybe? Although I will admit that the eyepatch was funny, to me, the rest of it bordered on kind of awkward. One or two props, sure. But something for nearly every song? Like Jemaine alluded to, if I wanted audience participation, I would've gone to see Rocky Horror.

As my sister and I left the theater, we passed a guy selling $10 Conchords shirts and I thought wow, you know you've made it when people are selling bootleg shirts outside your shows. I can't wait to see what they do for season 2 of the show (and hope they have another tour to promote it!).

No "Rock the Party" or "Cheer Up, Murray," Kyle.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Xtina, any idea where the loud woman was sitting? I was in the second row of the balcony, so it was hard for me to tell whether she was behind me or underneath me.

Hal Incandenza said...

ah, well. Thanks, xtina. Still sounds like an amazing show...though I could see how the prop thing might drive you mad after a while.

Mo Ryan said...

Thanks, Alan.

So people gave them props?


sorry, had to.

I don't know if anyone in Chicago will be industrious enough to bring props to throw on the stage. In any case I'm looking forward to the show.

xtina said...

My best guess for the loud woman was the back of the orchestra.

leor said...

if you haven't seen it already, check out the current issue of Blender magazine. there's a very funny piece featuring FOTC calling the magazine every day for a week, and reporting what's going on with them.

Anonymous said...

Us Kiwi’s are incredibly proud of these guys!
As an aside about audience participation, in New Zealand it’s considered good form for the audience to sing along with the performers... maybe hyperactive fans can do that instead of pelting the boys with props?