After nearly 10 years since their last album the New Zealand musical-comedy duo of your bookish dreams, Flight of the Conchords, finally returned with an HBO concert special. Now, a few months after the special became available, we get the album to go along with it. At an hour and 37 minutes long, it is the entire concert special in audio form; for the most part, this is a good thing because Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie are endlessly charming, but without the visual component it might be easier to digest this concert in chunks rather than as a whole.
The set starts incredibly strong; with a new track “Father and Son” that delivers instantly on an easily understandable and digestible comedic premise (a father is having a difficult time accepting his divorce). Clement, as the father, and McKenzie, as the son, slip into their roles with ease and deliver either blissful ignorance or cautious acceptance with their familiar, wry line deliveries. The laughs from the audience unfold with each reveal of this sad man’s life, and it’s a fun track that reminds you immediately why you enjoy Flight of the Conchords to begin with.
The next new track, “Iain and Deanna,” is preceded by Bret and Jemaine explaining that this time Bret wanted to voice the man, so that’s the premise, and remember it. The added layer of hearing Clement’s deeper register barely pretend to be the voice of Deanna, while McKenzie forces his voice into a macho growl, is funny enough but the lyrics would’ve guaranteed this song would be hilarious regardless. It’s an incredibly horny (sorry, not sorry) track, with too many excellent and ridiculous one-liners to mention here. This double knockout at the start of the album is followed by an oldie, “Inner City Pressure,” delivered with aplomb and excellent mood even without the cool-as-ice production effects on stage.
Shortly after that, we get what I believe is the best song on the album. I enjoyed this performance the most while viewing the special, and I enjoyed it equally as much just by listening to it. “The Summer of 1353” is maybe a slightly more niche premise than Clement and McKenzie usually go for, but it doesn’t feel like a strange outlier. Clement here voices a young peasant man who is trying to woo a lady in the titular year, while McKenzie gets to really shine as he voices multiple roles, including the lady in question. If this song had existed in 1353, it would’ve rocked their “pointy boots” off.
Unfortunately after, or maybe because of, that high point the energy starts to lag just a bit for a large middle chunk of the concert. New song “Stana” (it’s an anagram of Satan!) is just too long at nearly ten minutes. The duo acknowledges this afterward, but I have to actively fight to retain focus on the song and track where the story is. And it is a story, as the song is sonically meant to sound akin to “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.” A performance of “Foux du Fafa” takes its time with a lengthy interlude where Clement and McKenzie enact an interaction between a man and a woman while using their very silly fake French. “Seagull” rounds out the semi-slump, and is a song that has a relatively simple premise (McKenzie is a literal seagull, singing a song and failing to play the piano because he has no hands), but which is made more memorable when the guys get the audience to sing along with their seagull noises.
After that, Clement and McKenzie slip into two of their best faux hip-hop songs, starting with “Mutha’uckas” and transitioning seamlessly into “Hurt Feelings.” The performances here are especially great, and the care that went into preparing for this concert is evident by their tweaks made to make the songs more than just an instance of “playing the hits.” Clement stretches…and stretches the pause in “Hurt Feelings” before he realizes “they forgot about me,” and McKenzie’s movie reference of Maid in Manhattan is updated to Bad Grandpa, with a line about his enjoyment of the work of Robert De Niro thrown in.
Their first finale is capped off with a sweet song about touring life, “Back on the Road.” They’re back soon of course (as they make clear even as they say “goodnight”) to perform a lengthy encore, starting with “Bowie,” which is naturally a little more touching than it was before. After that is “Bus Driver,” which is slightly too long but is filled with such loving detail about this bus driver’s life that it becomes another charming example of the exemplary songwriting skills of Clement and McKenzie. Before we finally finish we get a performance of the classic “Robots,” which sounds as good as ever (and Clement’s ability to sound like an automated robot voice is still unparalleled). McKenzie follows that up with “Shady Rachel,” a jazz riff which McKenzie precedes with a warning that “if jazz isn’t your thing, now is the time to take five.” That’s an apt warning because, as a lukewarm jazz listener, I disconnected from “Shady Rachel” pretty quickly.
The concert ends with two solid classics, “Carol Brown” and “The Most Beautiful Girl (In the Room).” Both are performed exactly as you would expect, and with amiable freshness; if they’ve ever made you laugh, they will again here.
Overall, the album is very well performed in a musical and comedic sense. The instrumentation is spot on, and the vocals are crystal clear—which is extremely important for songs that rely so much on wordplay and characterization—while the comedic timing is spot-on. There are frequent dialogue interludes included on the album here, often featuring short joke anecdotes from the guys or just an introduction to the next song, or to the Orchestra performing with them. These are pretty much all skippable here, as they perform much better in the visual format where you can see the subtleties between Clement and McKenzie as they play off of one another’s reactions. Every song is great here, and the new ones are largely very enjoyable. The Flight of the Conchords chemistry is still brimming over and their deadpan, self-deprecating humor is just as sharp. The length of the concert is too weighty for a complete listen in one sit like you could have done with their previous albums, but once you find your favorites here you could find a lot of enjoyment from dropping in whenever and wherever you like.