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AOL Music Canada - April 23, 2009

by emira » Mon May 23, 2011 9:06 am

Flight of the Conchords Soar Offscreen

Source: By Joshua Ostroff, AOL.ca
Posted: 04/23/09 12:07PM

On their HBO series, the Wellington-born, Williamsburg-based musical-comedy duo “Flight of the Conchords” has exactly one fan. Her name is Mel. But in the real world, deadpan Kiwi comics Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie have attracted a massive hipster cult.

The Conchords, along with Saturday Night Live’s The Lonely Island and Canadian comic Jon Lajoie, are leading a renaissance in musical comedy, a genre once thought dead aside from the odd ‘Weird’ Al Yankovic pop parody. Thank YouTube for its revival, because the accompanying music videos are the perfect length to go viral online.

Lonely Island revived the format with their inbox-flooding “Lazy Sunday” digital short, and Lajoie’s tunes exist only online (though he’s working on a TV pilot with patron Will Ferrell) whereas Flight of the Conchords film a full half-hour sitcom, which just happens to break into absurdist musical segments a couple times an episode.

The duo is now large enough to sell out a North American tour “faster than a fast thing” (as their website boasts) including a pair of shows this week at Toronto’s multi-tiered Massey Hall. Coming on the heels of their second season, their triumphant live show plays out like a wrestler stomping around the ring after a preordained win. The rowdy crowd cheers lustfully at every recognized “hit,” right from their very first song “Too Many Dicks (On The Dancefloor)”, an electro floor-filler they perform while dressed as robots (Alas, they remove the costumes without performing their best, and most costume-appropriate, ditty “Robots.”).

Clement, the taller, bespectacled half of the duo, cheerfully informs the capacity crowd that “Dicks'” title originated in Vancouver, when a club-goer grabbed the DJ mic to voice his complaints about the overabundance of Y chromosomes. “What a gift,” Clement deadpans to the crowd’s patriotic delight. Conchord fans have even developed song-specific rituals, like throwing toothbrushes and jellybeans onstage (their Barry White-esque sex-jam “Business Time” claims teeth-cleaning to be essential foreplay while dragons weep jellybeans in the absurdist ditty “Albi The Racist Dragon”).

The vociferous response is a far cry from their trips to Canada to play Fringe Festivals early in their pre-televised career, when the pair flew from New Zealand to play a Vancouver venue that housed one person—who then slunk away in the darkness during the show, a humiliation they recently recreated onscreen.

So how did they turn into hipsterdom’s conquering heroes?

“We had a TV show in between,” Clement matter-of-facts the next day, noting they now have a lot of real-life Mels, fans who follow them around to shows and mail in bizarre presents, including “tons of portraits and pencil sketches” and even cookies with their faces on them. “A lot of our fans really like making craft gifts for us,” says McKenzie.

“Rather than giving us blowjobs,” Clement cracks, though his inner nerd immediately emerges to mention a cool perk from earlier in the day. “I just got a tour of the paleontology department of the museum. They just came up to me and said, 'Love your show, how much time have you got?' ” Admittedly, the second-season songs aren’t as catchy as the originals but that's an understandable sophomore-slump situation since they honed the first-season songs over many years but were forced to pen the new songs in a short burst to keep up with HBO’s shooting schedule.

“Well, we wouldn’t end up in weird places,” says McKenzie of the new, plot-driven numbers like “Hurt Feelings.” “Sometimes in the old songs we trap ourselves because the songs were stories, but sometimes it helped us because it sent us off on little journeys.”

The TV show’s whimsical visuals are certainly missed during the Conchords live gigs, which maintains their original, no-frills two guys with acoustic guitars set-up (albeit with the addition of the "New Zealand Symphony Orchestra," aka a cellist named Nigel). Aside from an unplugged take on their testicular anthem “Sugar Lumps” and a stripped-down version of their child-killing, sheep-raping country tune “Ballad of Stana,” the songs feel a bit thin onstage since we know them as full-band productions onscreen and CD. (Their first EP, The Distant Future, won a Grammy and their latest full-length, I Told You I Was Freaky, was finished last week and will come out on Sub Pop asap).

Luckily, they make up for it with brilliant between-song banter.

“It’s pretty much just normal talking, but professional,” McKenzie helpfully explains at the beginning of their concert. “Kind of like what you do in your kitchen” Clement adds. “Only better.” But his self-deprecating wit quickly takes over. “I’m sorry. We’ve been in America for a month and we’ve become very arrogant.”

So far a third season is still up in the air—“We dunno yet,’ says Clement. “We’re probably having a meeting about this after this tour”—but neither seem eager to get back before the cameras, preferring this return to their live performance roots.

“You can really mess around, and try new jokes that night. And also it doesn’t matter if you f-ck up,” enthuses McKenzie, who adds the influx of new songs also makes touring more fun. “You can vary the show. You don't have to play the same songs each night.”

“We could do it,” Clement adds. “We won’t. But theoretically.”

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