3rd July 1973 at London’s Hammersmith Odeon (as it was then known), David Bowie famously took to the stage as Ziggy Stardust for the last time. Ending a tour, he retired the enigmatic character that night and popular music was never the same. 45 years later to the day, a sold out crowd waited patiently for the doors to open for another unique event, a live performance of (probably) New Zealand’s most well-known band, Flight of the Conchords. Gaining international fame from their HBO television show which premiered in 2007, I was introduced to them by being shown clips of various hilarious songs on YouTube and basically falling down the dry humoured rabbit hole since.
A friend and I were in the sun scorched queue, punctuating our catch up chat with little renditions of our favourite Conchord songs including “Bowie’s in Space”, unaware of the auspiciousness of the date. The show had actually been postponed for months from its original date. Bret McKenzie, one half of the comedy act took a tumble down some stairs and managed to break two bones in his left hand meaning the Conchords were temporarily ‘grounded’. We were sure the show was going to be well worth the extra wait.
The venue felt like the perfect place to host McKenzie and his partner Jemaine Clement for their first shows in the UK for eight years. The low-key pair were not swallowed up by a rambling space and still able to connect with the audience. Their familiar dry and emotionless banter brought huge laughs in between mostly new material. It was wonderful to discover, and laugh at, some very clever new numbers with one particularly relatable song called “Summer of 1353”. The duo created a medieval sound by each playing a recorder during the instrumental, Clement embodying his inner rock god by strutting up and down the stage edge, and McKenzie reclining on top of a piano, and then picking up a second recorder. I don’t know what kind of sound one can achieve by playing two recorders simultaneously; I would assume a squeak and squeal like a novice, but from where we sat it sounded amazing, however unbelievable.
It was mid-way through their set where they announced they were lucky enough to be touring with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra which they introduced to the stage. The applause was soon eclipsed by cackles as one smartly dressed man joined them with a cello. (I can confirm Nigel represented his country well) I was weak with laughter by this point.
I did wonder about the potential for the night to become one long karaoke session with so many fans memorising their previously released material, but they reserved much of their more well-known songs for the encore. The audience was by then shouting out their favourite titles like requests. At one point the song that is always getting stuck in my head, “Business Time”, was yelled out as Clement was introducing another song. Without pausing and in his fabulous droll monotone he responded with: “Not that one” which disappointed me a little since they didn’t play it, but the hilarity and purity of the in character moment was worth witnessing instead. Crowd pleasing classics “The Most Beautiful Girl (In The Room)”, “Foux Du Fafa” and of course “Bowie In Space” were excitedly received.
Punctuating the jokes and musical numbers were small clusters of people staring at phones. Annoying for those of us enjoying being present with the performance, and eventually irritating the Conchords too. Realising that the date coincided with the England versus Columbia game in the Football World Cup group stages lead to a tiny amount of leniency, but still mockery, as McKenzie called for a crew member backstage to bring a device out so we could all join in resulting in an iPad hilariously being hurried onto the stage for one penalty kick.
My cheeks felt so strained by the standing ovation. This was the funniest thing I’d seen since Bill Bailey in the same venue. My friend and I both laughed continuously from start to finish and the giggles continued as we sang Foux Du Fafa to ourselves on the way to the tube station at the end. Leaving us wanting more, HBO have announced a live special recorded from their London shows will be released in October. I’m so excited to relive the rock ‘n roll legends visit, check out the trailer here.
(Oh, and in case you wondered, England won that game.)