Flight of the Conchords and Karen Kilgariff Thursday, May 15, 2008 Ellie Caulkins Opera House Better Than: Making an ass of yourself.
The idiots were out in full-force last night at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House, a remarkable concert venue that I had never been to and feels like, I imagine, sitting in a space-ship designed by gay aliens: a little foreign but cozy as hell. Flight of the Conchords was in town for a performance, and despite the sly, cerebral nature of the Kiwi troubadours comedy – an act showcased so adroitly on a self-titled HBO series – some of their fans were a little less understated.
I first became aware of this when I saw a twenty-something young man in a backwards ball-cap wearing what appeared to be jams. I thought it an odd choice for an opera house but thought no more of it until he passed directly in front of me and I saw that on the back of his pants was a fake, plastic ass! – two, pink cheeks attached to his shorts! What the fuck is that guy thinking, I wondered? Hey the guys I’m going to see are funny, and you know what else is funny? My fake-ass jams! I’m going to rock these to the show! Flight of the Conchords will love that! Normally at comedy shows I’m on the other end of things, up on stage, so I never really study or critique the audience, they are just another ass in a seat, and I am elated for their presence. But this guy was two asses in a seat! One real, one plastic, and if you consider what an ass he had to be to wear something like that in the first place, well, that right there is a lot of ass.
These ass-thoughts swirled through my head as opener Karen Kilgariff, a Mr. Show vet, took the stage and “warmed up the crowd.” Open note to Flight of the Conchords: You can do far better than Kilgariff as an opener. Seriously. There are many who would consider you at the forefront of, for-lack-of-a-better-term, alternative comedy, and I’m sure more talented comics would line-up for the opportunity (google me and let’s make this shit happen). An opener who makes jokes about Dr. Phil not helping with weight loss and Pimp My Ride is not exactly the type of intelligent fare you’d expect, and her departures into other realms felt forced. How about bringing Kristen Schall, your obsessed fan from the show, on tour? Seen her act before and she’s brilliant.
No matter though, as soon as Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie took the stage, all memory of Kilgariff was erased. Wasting no time the duo launched immediately into “Boom” to screams from an enraptured audience. The two were greeted as rock-stars, not comedians and reminded everyone of why they are so successful: because they have the musical chops to back it up. Otherwise it would all be lame parody, but the Flight of the Conchords are so talented musically, you can’t help but laugh your ass off, and nod your head at the same time, shit-eating grin bouncing up and down like a bobble-head. But as soon as the Conchords stopped singing, the backlash of such success was immediately apparent. Comics are often heckled but it’s rare to see them heckled like musicians, with people screaming requests for songs rather than sitting back and enjoying the banter between the two -- which, as any Conchords fan can tell you, is often the best part.
“Some of you people think this is a conversation,” Clement said at one point. “You’re mistaken, it’s a show.”
But the Conchords never let it get out of control, responding to the insolent masses when necessary, ignoring them completely when things threatened to spin out of control (at one point the two took away cell-phones and camera, fashioning themselves scolding teachers while making long-distance calls and snapping photos). The two ripped through highlights from their Grammy-winning comedy album including “Hiphopopatamus vs. Rhymenoceros,” “The Most Beautiful Girl (In the Room)” and an excellent version of “Robots,” that showcased Clement’s remarkable ability for parroting various sci-fi heroes.
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But by far the best moments of the show came from songs featured on the television program that didn’t make it to the album. “I’m Not Crying,” brought the house down, as did, “Albi The Racist Dragon,” a children’s parable dealing with magic and badly burned Albanian children. In-between the two engaged in an impression of a whale making a 911 call, talked about all the issues of the world, managed to insinuate that our country was only at war to make itself rich, while breaking out instruments ranging from guitars and bass to a omnichord and a digital saxophone. McKenzie even leapt into the audience for an extended keytar solo, a phrase you do not hear, let alone write very often. Extended keytar solo. He managed to pull something.
Before the last song of the show, the masses kept hollering, requesting their favorites in a style befitting a state fair, and, of course, a jackass two rows in front of me shouted, “Free Bird.” I hadn’t even finished sighing like the disdainful, hipster bastard that I am, when Clement began strumming away, giving the moron thirty seconds of his requested tune.
“Like I’m really going to keep doing that for nine minutes,” he said, before closing out with “Business Time.” It was the perfect example of how the two soft-spoken musicians from New Zealand are able to keep an audience in the palm of their hands using little more than their wit and their strategic, feigned naiveté. They came, they saw, they conchord.
-- Adam Cayton-Holland