Few comedians can mine the mundane for absurdity quite like Flight of the Conchords. With a lucid vision of hyper-literate zoo animals, David Bowie tributes and genre exercises that span R&B, electroclash and dad-rock, Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie have built a cult following that hasn’t really waned during the pair’s periodic long absences.
After Flight of the Conchords’ HBO show went off the air in 2009, the two devoted their spirit and wit to Muppets movies, Moana and the vampire satire What We Do in the Shadows, and now they return with a new album called Live in London. A recording drawn from Flight of the Conchords’ 2018 live shows in the city — one of which was recorded for an HBO special last year — the new set combines live performances of Conchords classics with loose tracks that the duo has performed over the years but never officially released.
Alas, it’s not a revival of the gone-too-soon HBO series Flight of the Conchords, nor is it a full hour’s worth of new material; if anything, it’s a victory lap for the New Zealanders. Deeply fun and endearing, Live in London provides a showcase for Flight of the Conchords at its members’ most irreverent — a couple of guys content to crack jokes, jam out and share the results with the masses.
Much of the joy here lies in listening to Clement and McKenzie’s back-and-forth banter, which feels as off-the-cuff and stilted as their fictionalized selves sounded in their Lower East Side apartment. Throughout, they spin absurd yarns about elevators, the one-man New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and hotel muffins, among other “rock-and-roll anecdotes.”
Live in London also provides an excellent showcase for Flight of the Conchords’ continued genre agnosticism. Where their peers in musical comedy might lean heavily on the “comedy” half of that equation, Clement and McKenzie also possess a knack for crafting backing music that’s as rich and eclectic as the gags it accompanies. Take “Stana,” a barn-raising, on-the-road country epic about a bad man whose name is an anagram — or, better yet, the office-hookup-inspired “Iain and Deanna,” which sounds an awful lot like if Franz Ferdinand ended up working a 9-to-5.
“We’ve been trying to stay young,” Clement says early on in their set. “We’ve been trying to preserve ourselves like those sexy man-boys that you saw 10 years ago on the TV.” It’s a wry self-assessment that should assuage audiences looking for a full-on comeback, at least for now. It might not happen soon, but at least the charm that animated Flight of the Conchords’ rise remains intact.