The Conchords: The Geekiest Rock Stars Ever
Last Night: Flight of the Conchords
Better Than: All the YouTube videos fit to click.
By now, fans of HBO's off-kilter, musical comedy series Flight of the Conchords know that its number is up. The Conchords themselves, the duo of Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie, walking a nearly-flawless tightrope between maladroit geekiness and rock star bravado, has so much as said they won't be returning for another season of chasing women, running from their obsessed stalker Mel, and, most importantly, breaking down into impromptu music videos that exhibit the sort of mastery of pop the two doltish New Zealanders could never employ in their live shows.
What Clement and McKenzie have created is a slacker version of High School Musical for the iPod generation. FotC fans will probably hate that line, but it's the truth: The trick is their personas have set the bar so low, thanks to a brilliant combination of ineffectual dialogue and overt ineptitude (they consistently draw just one fan to their performances), that the pop highs they reach in their lampoonish songs feel that much more legit. Borrowing from Andy Kaufman, the Smothers Brothers, and a whole lot of David Bowie, the pair have tapped into a musical subconscious that, with only a simple outstretched disco falsetto, becomes almost irresistibly hilarious.
You couldn't argue the Conchords' HSM-like draw, anyway, as Kristen Schaal (the show's Mel, performing a set of miniature "plays" in character) introduced the duo to the audience at the University of Miami's Bank United Center on Tuesday night. Grown women screamed and clawed as if Paul and John were walking onto the tarmac; their dates, too, equally star-struck. The pair appeared backstage wearing cardboard robot heads fans will remember from episode one's "The Humans Are Dead," and launched not into one of their YouTube classics, but the season two song above, "Too Many Dicks on the Dance Floor." Channeling Daft Punk, the Conchords fumbled with their synths and beat boxes while the venue's lighting system struggled to keep up with their obviously off-beat timing. Perfect - echoes of their oft-performed "Who Likes to Rock the Party?"
From there things backed up a bit as they took on a duet version of "Most Beautiful Girl in the Room," where subtle lyrical changes gave the fans who sang along some surprises (notably: "And then I seal the deal, I do my moves I do the Robot - resistance is futile, girl."). Bret fended off a few marriage proposals from the audience as they transitioned into the Johnny Cash riff, "Stana," about a boy whose name (an anagram of Satan) foretold he would become a habitual law-breaker, killing folks "just because," evading the IRS, and scoffing at the laws of physics.
In perhaps the most successful moment of the night, the pair launched into "Carol Brown," a folksy and honest song from their Michel Gondry directed season two episode "Unnatural Love." It was one of those moments where the geeky facade wore just thin enough to expose some truly great songwriting - when the subdued track reached its rhapsodic, post-chorus crescendo, the filled BankUnited center released a collective coo of pleasure. The hairs on your arm tingled. And as quickly as the poignant moment came, it was replaced by the ridiculousness of "We're Both in Love With a Sexy Lady," a cello-assisted R&B track that became a medley with another season two hit, "Sugalumps."
By the time the Conchords reached their ubiquitous swan song, "Business Time," about a comfortable couple that has scheduled sex in their baggy, bedtime T-shirts, the crowd was completely theirs. In more impromptu lyrical changes, Jemaine remarked on his sexual prowess, "When it's with me, you only need two minutes, because I'm so fierce. I'm concentrated, like Tang. You don't want too much by itself." Two songs later, during "Issues," the Conchords would fade off the stage, come back for a short encore, and walk off again.
When the house lights came on, the crowd lingered a bit, dazed and quite nearly lost. Will the Conchords come back? Probably not. With the last season in the books, the New Zealanders have reached their saturation point - any more, and they'd risk dilution. Business hours are over, baby. But you can still order online.
Personal Bias: Two weeks after season two wrapped up, I'm jonesing for the DVD. Can we make that happen?
Random Detail: There was an older guy, about 50, in front of me, cracking up to nearly every song, but most especially "Business Time" and "Jenny." His wife was not amused.
By the Way: The Conchords' new CD of season two hits was supposed to be released by Sub Pop this month, but still has no official date or title. You can download about 10 of the songs via iTunes.