Flight of the Conchords at the Mann Music Center

They came, they saw, they Conchord

In their new song, “Seagull,” Flight of the Conchords’ Jemaine Clement follows each of Bret McKenzie’s verses with an explanation of what that verse is saying metaphorically. By calling himself a seagull, for example, Bret is actually expressing a desire to get away.

Bret and Jemaine onstage somewhere else at some other time. (Photo by Kris Krug via Creative Commons/Flickr)

New Zealand’s “double one-man band,” a novelty folk duo probably best known for their eponymous musical-comedy HBO series, were at the Mann Center Sunday night on the third stop of their North American “Flight of the Conchords Sing Flight of the Conchords Tour.” Comedian Arj Barker, who appears as their friend “Dave” on the HBO show, opened.

A central park in Newark

Following their “Seagull” approach, Jemaine’s accidental breaking of a guitar string (before the duo even started their set) is the perfect metaphor for what makes these musical comedians so effective: They’re relatable. No false projection of perfection here. Just your everyday, unpredictable hiccups most shows try to gloss over.

Flight of the Conchords accepts hiccups. When Jemaine later thought his guitar might be out of tune, he stopped playing to check. He probably could have gotten away with it and waited until the next break between numbers to fix it discreetly. This patron doubts she would’ve noticed. The point, however, is that they cared and were confident enough to stop—acknowledge humanity’s propensity for mischance, with a refreshing break from plan, and carry on.

The music resumed and laughs were easy and frequent.

New Zealand: Why not?

While Bret’s wrinkled shirt was quite “punk” and the swift arrival of a replacement guitar for Jemaine almost “rock and roll,” at their heart Bret and Jemaine come across as two classy guys who happen to be hilarious. Always aware of guests onstage (cellist Nigel Collins, introduced as “New Zealand’s Symphony Orchestra” was a welcome accompanist), the band mixed Conchord classics (their show pilot’s "The Most Beautiful Girl (In the Room") with new material that was just as good. “Shady Rachel,” in particular, about a suspected spoon thief, was a highlight.

Because the band’s songs are stylistically eclectic, a wide variety of genres had to be tackled. Creative changes to lighting and live video feeds helped with the jumps. “Shady Rachel” featured jazzy shadows and close-ups; “1353 (Woo a Lady),” a medieval courtship song with recorders, was a little harder to express onscreen. 

Audience members shouted out song requests, though ultimately only a pre-show birthday wish made it through (the band needed to Google the lyrics to one of their own older songs). But whatever your feelings on “Foux du Fafa” (which made the cut) or “Hiphopapotamus vs Rhymenoceros” (which didn’t), a desire for more, rather than any great disappointment in the set list, drove their enthusiasm.

I'm not crying, it's just raining on my face

With their choice in closing numbers, at least, the band couldn’t have made for a more powerful finale: “Bowie’s in Space” ended the main set (see Jemaine’s tribute essay to David Bowie here), and “Think About It” closed the encore.

According to setlist.fm these were the same closers the band used the day before. Final lyric, “Jammin’ out, just jammin’ out, yeah, yeah,” does seem to set up a fine exit stage left.

On this night, however, following the news of the Orlando massacre earlier in the day, it was the “Think About It” lyric, “What’s wrong with the world today?” that stood out. FoTC made it just a little less wrong in all the right ways.

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