It has been nearly one decade since the series finale of Flight of the Conchords aired on HBO, much to the horror and dismay of fans all over the world (myself included). The New Zealand comedy-musical duo have a distinctly biting and creatively alluring style of humor that is simply unmatched, making the mundane in life outlandishly funny and even social commentaries both comedic and effective. Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement have proven themselves to be vivacious and incredibly imaginative performers in both seasons of Flight of the Conchords and in Live in London, showcasing the talent they naturally ooze in their new special with both nostalgia-inducing melodies, brilliant new tracks, and sometimes a strange blend of the two.
Before getting into Live at London, and as a devout Flight of the Conchords fan, I feel obliged to discuss a few things. First off, while their relationship with HBO ended on good terms (or “HB-ooooh” as they jokingly clarified in a recent Stephen Colbert interview), Bret and Jemaine stated they would not return for a third season in 2009 – purely a creative decision, which as stated by Bret, was because “it stopped being fun… it wasn’t a decision about money… it was about enjoying our lives.” For two friends that aspired to create art on their own terms, it was an entirely respectable decision, especially considering the duo had no intention of dying or fizzling out. They performed and toured intermittently, or would “rock out,” as Jemaine has clarified. Ultimately, Live In London is the amalgam of what Flight of the Conchords — the duo, not the series — have been perfecting and polishing for the decade, which is a sincere brand of comedy ingrained in music, honesty, and a surrealist ridiculousness that can perfectly encapsulate anything from boring realism to fictional love affairs to French lessons to David Bowie tributes. Their humor, additionally, is never without its artistic merit.
Live in London, as expected of Flight of the Conchords, is tame and witty (in all the best ways). They begin by jokingly discussing their age (as well as ours) and apologizing for reminding us of our mortality. They also apologize for working in a male-dominated field, to which Bret adds, “We’re writing roles for women. The problem is the band itself is very male-dominated. It’s systemic.” “The fucking patriarchy,” Jemaine cleverly replies with a look of repugnant fury. They also joke about the “life of excess” they live, amounting to a story of Bret having a complimentary muffin during a hotel stay while Jemaine doesn’t receive one. In many ways, they’re self-referential of their choice to never chase money through endless seasons and tours by choosing to not live a life of excess. They’ve gone into their own careers (Bret has an Oscar and Jemaine is being seasoned by Marvel and Star Wars) while also enjoying fatherhood. Thankfully for us, they still rock out together, and performances such as this one proved why Flight of the Conchords didn’t need endless seasons or tours. (Not that we ever needed that validation.)
Every performance at the London Apollo is ethereally gorgeous and fantastically edited, many times in a manner that resembles or mimics the series. The lighting, additionally, is a sight to behold, and I have zero doubt Bret is great friends with the lighting guy after asking him for favors the entire show. “Can we get some lighting that evokes a medieval atmosphere please?” Bret asks before they are draped in royal reds and gold. “Can we get lighting that evokes a kind of unrequited love sentiment please?” They are immediately covered in gorgeous shades of blue. There’s also a brilliantly colored segment during “Foux du Fafa” in which, of course, they are draped in the colors of the French flag. The combination of surreal lighting along with beautiful editing, utilizing mirror and perspective-altering effects, made for a fantastic visual experience. As aforementioned, this is quite similar to the editing utilized in the series, adding to the sense of nostalgia and euphoria.
Bret and Jemaine’s performance is a return to form, a musical standpoint, though it has also shown their evolution as artists. Both still have incredible voices and phenomenal talent when it comes to musicianship and lyricism, making every performance electric and insanely fun despite being composed entirely of dry humor and blunt satire. They use it all — guitars, wind chimes, pianos, maracas, and all the little percussion instruments at their disposal. Nigel, “The one-man Symphony Orchestra of New Zealand,” is phenomenal in every musical performance he partakes in, my personal favorites being the cello and his solo in “I’ve Got Hurt Feelings.” Bret has a guitar solo and uses a pineapple as a musical instrument while on the piano, which he deserves just as much credit for. As always, Jemaine is hilariously monotonous and jokes with Bret, who openly laughs at one point during a song. There is a refreshing nature to how laid back and fun Flight of the Conchords carry themselves on stage and carry their performances, particularly when integrating their older songs in new manners. They are dazzling, inventive, and uproariously funny in very subtle ways, and words cannot do justice to their performance. Sure, the style of these oddball New Zealanders may not be for everyone, but they can undeniably put on an enchanting and entertaining show.
The set list included new and old tracks such as “Father and Son,” “Deana and Ian,” “The Most Beautiful Girl (in the Room),” “Chips and Dips,” “Inner City Pressure,” “1353 (Woo a Lady),” “Shady Rache,” “The Ballad of Stana,” “Bowie in Space,” “Bus Driver’s Song,” “Foux du Fafa,” “Back on the Road,” “The Seagull,” “Mutha’uckas” / “Hurt Feelings,” “Carol Brown” and “Robots.”
Watch Flight of the Conchords: Live in London on HBO Go and On Demand, along with the original Flight of the Conchords series on HBO Comedy and the streaming sites!