Flight of the Conchords @ The Riverside Theater
June 18, 2016
It has been over four years since the New Zealand-based comedy band Flight of
the Conchords last toured. Their last studio album, I Told You I Was Freaky, was released in 2009, the same year that
that the act pulled the plug on their eponymous HBO television program. Since
then, band members Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement have seemingly left the
rock-and-roll lifestyle behind: McKenzie has served as music supervisor for the
rebooted Muppets film franchise,
while Clement wrote, directed, and starred in the indie vampire comedy What We Do in the Shadows.
Yet it’s 2016 and the Flight of the Conchords are once again playing shows. Was such a reunion warranted? Based upon audience reaction during their recent sold-out performance at the Riverside Theater, the answer to such a query is a resounding “yes.” The crowd ate up such “classic” Conchord songs such as “The Most Beautiful Girl (in the Room),” “Carol Brown (Choir of Ex-Girlfriends),” a surprisingly poignant version of “Bowie,” and an explosive take on “Mutha’uckas/I’ve Got Hurt Feelings.” Often lost in all the jokes, stage banter, and supporting cast members (did Murray get them the Riverside gig?) is the fact that both McKenzie and Clement are skilled musicians. Watching them clearly enjoy playing together—particularly during an ad-hoc version of the Violent Femmes’ “Blister in the Sun”—made their performance more than an exercise in nostalgia.
What also saved the evening from being rooted solely in the past was that the duo used the show to try out new material. Some of these songs did not live up to the standards previously set by the act. “Shady Rachel” was awful (and, with its bizarre take on jazz vocals, a tad bit offensive), while “The Ballad of Stana,” wasn’t quite as bad. Much better were “The Seagull,” “1353 (Woo a Lady),” and “Father and Son,” with the latter being a caustic take on a father trying to convince his son that his mom is dead, when in reality she has simply moved in with a new guy named Trevor.
“Father and Son” highlight what the Conchords now do best: comment on the funny-yet-sad state of human relationships, particularly as both parties get older. It didn’t hurt that both band members, but especially Clement, have noticeably aged since the last time they were in the public spotlight. With such an appearance in mind, it was a treat to watch Clement offer an inspired version of “Business Time,” the Conchords’ ode to the joys (?) of pre-planned marital sex.
Ultimately, it is the laughs induced by such songs that make the Conchords continue to matter. The band emerged at a time when indie rock was moving more in the singer/songwriter direction, and beginning to take itself way too seriously. The Conchords playfully skewered both of those trends. While a lot has changed within the world of music since 2009, there is still a need for bands that can remind that humor can elicit emotion just as well as pathos. Here’s hoping the Conchords stick around a bit longer.