May 11, 2010
Flight of the Conchords at the Apollo, Manchester
Have Flight of the Conchords gone beyond a joke? Arriving on stage in Manchester with boxes on their heads, New Zealandâ€™s biggest comedy export were greeted as the pop stars they falteringly pretend to be. With a screen on each side of the duo and their guitars, keyboards and drum kit â€” an act of kindness at this 3,000-seater; essential by the time they reach Wembley next week â€” their parodic songs and downbeat interplay prompt shrieking, hollering and, finally, a standing ovation.
Two seasons of their New York sitcom have made stars of Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie. But if their heads have been turned since their last British appearance five years ago, they do a grand job of still looking as if we can take or leave them as we please. â€œIf you need to go,â€ the bearded, slight McKenzie says lightly near the end of their two-hour set, â€œif youâ€™ve got something else on, just shoot off.â€
Most of that set is the songs, most of which most of the crowd know. But these are rich enough to bear repetition. Ladies of the World is a priapic soul session â€” the rangy Clement gives good Barry White â€” that ends in haunting harmonies from the duo and their cellist Nigel, who helps to keep the music rich and tight. Iâ€™m Not Crying is a tender trouncing of 10ccâ€™s Iâ€™m not in Love.
They mock machismo throughout, from the rap parody Hurt Feelings (â€œI feel like a prize asshole/ Nobody compliments my casseroleâ€) to the so-so settled-relationship sex in Business Time.
They take a few songs to settle. The gentle banter encourages hecklers to feel part of the gang and, though they try to hush interruptions, actually their crowd interplay is spontaneous and skilful. They never lose their cool, but theyâ€™re never lost for words.
Some of the best moments are in the less familiar songs, which prompt from the crowd either a) greater focus, or b) a trip to the lavatory. The long song about a couple reunited on a park bench is a masterpiece of upended expectations, propulsively performed. Their medieval wooing song manages nimbly to rhyme â€œIDâ€ and â€œ1353â€. Only the closing numbers, including their ho-hum Bowie parody, seem to privilege form over content. But theyâ€™re preceded by a great flight of fantasy about time-travelling acid trips and amped up by costume changes.
The perfect Conchords show would probably be shorter and smaller. But tough. Whatâ€™s still glorious, what theyâ€™ve held on to so well, is the way that everything is still a joke. Funkiness is a joke. Folkiness is a joke. Sexiness is a joke. Pain is a joke. Pride is a joke.
Meanwhile, their disarming, ingenuous personas refuse to acknowledge any of that. So everything gets done to the best of their ability and nothing gets sneered at. What a highwire act.
Manchester Apollo, tonight and tomorrow; then touring to May 18. http://www.flightoftheconchords.co.nz
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