After a decade-long hiatus, comedy folk superstars Flight of the Conchords are back with a chart-topping live album that’s equal parts nostalgia and novelty. Simply titled Live in London, the album was recorded live at London’s Eventim Apollo Theater. It’s their first full-length release since 2009, but even with such an extensive interval between their last great work, the band’s newest release has managed to earn the audience’s approval in a massive way. At a certain point, you have to ask: is there even a line between laughter and superstardom for a band like this?
For those who didn’t catch their genuinely sensational ground-swell from fringe theater comedy heroes in 2004, through two successful HBO seasons, and into a stratosphere of acting stardom and Oscar-winning songwriting, Flight of the Conchords are a rare breed. Comprised of New Zealand musicians Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement, the duo has the uncanny ability to mix stellar comedic talent with pan-genre musical inventiveness. And it’s this one-of-a-kind combination that’s made the New Zealand team a household name in America. Their signature style brings together a mix of catchy tunes interspersed with lighthearted banter that tears up audiences.
The duo has two records to their credit – 2008’s Flight of the Conchords and 2009’s I Told You I Was Freaky. And although these were studio albums, skit-free and faithful to their pitch-perfect instinct for imitating genres and styles, they garnered a lot of positive reviews and critical acclaim. But in their reunion album Live in London, the band has brought back all of the elements that got them off to such a great start, and blown it up to the size of major venues.
Live in London is a one-hour TV special on HBO that’s right in the zone of the work they were always meant to do. And it all comes together so perfectly – the chemistry between McKenzie and Clement, the crowd’s roar of laughter, the musicians’ infectious rapport, and even a giggle or two from McKenzie himself (otherwise seen, deadpan, letting Clement’s ironical energy bounce off his classical good looks). It’s like the years between 2009 and now never happened.
Except they did. And the band’s quick to acknowledge it. McKenzie jests right at the beginning of the set, “We’ve been trying to stay young. We’ve been trying to preserve ourselves like those sexy man-boys that you saw 10 years ago on the TV.” But they’ve grown, or rather, they’ve evolved, and it’s clear from their music. The set includes a delightful mix of the old and the new. And it’s so refreshing that the comedy folk duo doesn’t fall into the trap of dragging the audience down with nostalgia. There are a bunch of unreleased tracks that have been cleverly woven into a tapestry of their old favorite hits.
One of the best numbers on the album is “Summer of 1353,” where the musicians invite the New Zealand Symphony orchestra on to the stage. Old favorites in the track list include “Robots,” “The Most Beautiful Girl (in the Room),” and of course, “Bowie.” Among the new numbers are “Seagull,” which is a mock-serious ballad, and “Stana,” which is a fun tune interspersed with spelling jokes.
If you haven’t heard Live in London yet, you’re missing out on a great piece of entertainment. For old fans of the duo, it’s like a homecoming. And for folks who haven’t ever heard (or seen) them perform live, Live in London is an initiation into one of the best comedy products of the early 21st century. And it’s certainly not one to be missed.
Photos courtesy of Sub Pop Records