First, a disclaimer:
For this, my first review for Picky Bastards, I’m going to struggle to be picky – let alone a bastard – because I, quite simply, love Flight of the Conchords. Not quite Mel level, but y’know.
However, I’m here to review the merits of a standalone album, Live in London, so here goes (ya turkeys).
Flip, another admission: this show means a lot to me because my girlfriend bought us tickets to the Manchester date for my birthday. It was fantastic. We were there, friends were there. Bret? Present. Jemaine? Present. As for Live in London, it is – unsurprisingly – much the same show. But that certainly doesn’t make listening to the same songs and (some) of the same jokes any less joyous.
With this album it’s important to consider context. Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement hadn’t toured the UK as Flight of the Conchords – ‘New Zealand’s fourth most popular folk duo’ – since 2010. Anticipation was high (not least from me), and it was intriguing to see whether any new songs would appear (hopefully), if they’d be any good (surely?), and whether Murray would be there (regrettably, no).
Trepidation didn’t last long. The show starts with the best of the new songs: Father and Son. A delicate exchange between a dad (Jemaine, obviously) and his boy (Bret), a quiet, (almost) tear-jerking intro that builds slowly to a back-and-forth crescendo – a hectic squash match, each shot funnier than the last.
As you’d expect, Bret and Jemaine’s deadpan conversations thread the album together. What you might not expect is how well their monotone delivery carries – both live and on record – in as vast a setting as London’s Hammersmith Apollo. Gags about not-so-rock-‘n’-roll party antics and decidedly non-revelatory anecdotes abound.
The older songs, the bonafide classics, hit the right note – most with playful new twists. Foux da Fafa and Carol Brown are as colourful and vibrant as ever, and Mutha’uckas runs seamlessly into fellow hip hop favourite Hurt Feelings. Bowie, the pair’s 2007 ode to the Thin White Duke, has since taken on added significance. It’s one of the show’s most rapturously received numbers – and still pretty far out.
To the new stuff. In a word, it’s great. It’s got it goin’ on. But at my pickiest – nay, nitpickiest (is that even a word?) – it’s in the new tracks where the album can judder. The songs sound fresh and original live, but on record can seem a little long, even plodding. Bret and Jemaine even joke about the length of Western-tinged Stana, which, at a rambling 9:21, you won’t return to often.
Another new song, though, is quicker to the draw. Iain and Deanna is a bombastic, high tempo pisstake of today’s need for instant sexual gratification (“gonna feel your boober in the back of the Uber, gonna play with your jacksie while you pay for the taxi”). Another, Seagull, is a plonky piano ride that descends into crashing, flapping chaos, and Back on the Road ties everything together. It’s beautiful… like a tree.
Live in London is an album any FOTC fan should love. It’s a blend of old and new, a reminder of why we fell for these unlikely heroes in the first place. The Conchords may have taken flight long ago, but our two captains can still fly high.
Words by Joe Shervin