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Over the weekend: Flight of the Conchords at Red Rocks

Flight of the Conchords' Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement get a leg up.
Flight of the Conchords' Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement get a leg up.
Soren McCarty

Flight of the Conchords, Iron & Wine, Arj Barker
Saturday, May 16, 2009
Red Rocks Amphitheater
Better than:
Going to a show to see bands that take themselves far too seriously.

I'm leery about using the word "comedy" when describing the music of Flight of the Conchords. Don't get me wrong, I'll be the first to admit that humor serves as one of the central tenets of the band's musical approach. Still, the description seems to carry a misleading connotation. Simplifying the New Zealand duo's act as pure comedy makes the music seem secondary, as if laughs take precedence over competent playing and well-honed song structures. It's also a false assumption, one that any one of the firsthand witnesses in the audience of thousands at Red Rocks on Saturday night could easily label as bogus, as Jermaine Clement and Bret McKenzie incorporated their skill for side-splitting, dead-pan comedy into an impressive live musical performance, one that drew freely from the soundtrack from the first and second seasons of their HBO television series and deftly alternated between acoustic soul, funk and hip-hop structures.


Over the weekend: Flight of the Conchords at Red Rocks
Bret McKenzie by Soren McCarty (click to enlarge)

While the duo faltered during the intro to "Robots" and seemed a miss a few cues early on in the show, they quickly found their rhythm. In terms of both solos and rhythm accompaniments, both of the members boasted impressive runs and riffs. Nigel Collins' cello also added to the texture and depth of the band's sound. Alternating between plucked bass lines and bowed melodies, Collins helped flesh out some of the simpler, lyric-driven songs like "Mutha'uckas" and "Hiphopopotamus Vs. Rhymenoceros." The added instrument gave McKenzie and Clement free reign to riff, both musically and comedically, on the source material. They were also spot on in their delivery of some of the funniest lines from songs like "Think About It" and "Song For Epileptic Dogs," and found the space to add updated references to topics like the swine flu.

Despite the overwhelming size of the crowd, the Conchords also found select opportunities to mingle with the audience. They read off some of the funniest banners held up in the audience, and launched into a full scale dance routine for "Sugalumps," during which Collins provided a stark, bass-line driven rhythmic accompaniment.

Some of the most memorable moments came in the band's longer-form songs, tunes that they didn't have the time to fully explore in their TV series. The epic narrative "The Bus Driver's Song," which gives a firsthand account of a New Zealand bus tour, as well as a new song called "Stana," which uses a cowboy song format to tell the tale of an especially dastardly protaganist, stretched well past the five-minute mark. But the pair's sharp repartee and skill at improvisation carried both easily.

Such songs showed another dimension of the band, one that didn't have the space to fully emerge in a televised format. In addition to their skill for pithy, two-minute comedy songs, the Flight of the Conchords can carry an epic, 10-minute narrative through the pure power of their comedic and musical skills. It's a talent that goes far beyond simple "comedy music."

Critic's Notebook
Personal Bias:
Jemaine Clement cracks me up more consistently than Bret McKenzie.
Random Detail: The alcohol vendors trolling for customers in the aisles almost spoiled some of the most stirring and affecting moments in Iron and Wine's set. An especially irritating vendor punctuated "Flightless Bird, American Mouth" with a loud call of "Who wants a margarita?!?"
By the way: Flight of the Conchords gave credit to their crew before their final songs, calling their manager "the real Murray," in reference to the fictional character in their television show.

Set List

Iron & Wine

1.    Sodom, South Georgia
2.    He Lays in the Reins
3.    Woman King
4.    Such Great Heights
5.    Upward Over the Mountain
6.    Naked as We Came
7.    Boy With a Coin
8.    Mary Anne
9.    Resurrection Fern
10.    Flightless Bird, American Mouth
11.    The Trapeze Swinger

Flight of the Conchords

1.    Too Many Dicks on the Dance Floor
2.    Hurt Feelings
3.    The Most Beautiful Girl (In the Room)
4.    Carol Brown
5.    Robots
6.    Hilarious Misunderstanding
7.    I Told You I Was Freekie
8.    Mutha'uckas
9.    Not Crying
10.    Hiphopopotamus Vs. Rhymenoceros
11.    Song for Epileptic Dogs
12.    Business Time
13.    Badass
14.    Think About It
15.    Bus Driver's Song
16.    We're Both in Love With a Sexy Lady
17.    Sugalumps

Encore

18.    Stana
19.    Albi the Racist Dragon




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