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Review: Conchords play the Hollywood Bowl

May 31, 2010 |  3:24 pm


These Kiwi guys ought to have their own television show.

A band meeting was held at the Hollywood Bowl on Sunday night – Bret McKenzie, present; Jemaine Clement, present; Murray Hewitt (Rhys Darby), sadly, not present – and despite the absence of their winning band manager, the New Zealand comedy duo’s hilarious set worked as well on the big stage as it did on the small screen.

The Conchords’ soaring performance of understated humor, wry observation and inspired mockery underscored television’s great loss after they recently abandoned their Emmy-nominated HBO series after only two seasons. In an age of bloated, self-importance and out-of-control celebrity worship, their songs of parody and general mirth served as a lively and engaging antidote.

The practiced comedian-songwriters, who wrapped up a spring tour that traveled through much of Europe and ended at the Bowl, hit all the right notes and targets as they played their way through the recognizable hits from their television series. What became even more apparent during a live performance is the pairs’ musical and songwriting skills. The Conchords sound very, very good – and they might sound even better if their songs weren’t so funny.

They opened with "Robots," which ridicules the dark futuristic fears that surfaced toward the end of the last century. Essentially, the song tells the story of a robot uprising that results in a few changes – some "surface" ones like repainting everything silver, and some deeper ones like killing all the people. (For a nice California touch, Jemaine imitated the voice of the state’s governor speaking as a Terminator.)

From the outset, it was clear the indie-friendly, near-sellout audience members were enthusiastically in on all the jokes. In fact, most of them dressed like friends of Bret and Jemaine who in the series live in a low-rent New York City neighborhood as they struggle to succeed in the music business.

The fun continued as made their way through mock poignancy of "Hurt Feelings" ("The day after my birthday, ain’t my birthday, mum"), "Albi (the Racist Dragon)," "Bowie" and Bret’s dead-on rendition of Korean karaoke. A particular highlight was the song of seduction called "Business Time," in which Jemaine added in a Barry White-like voice for his would-be lover to remove her "granny panties."

After one wave of resounding applause, Bret quietly replied: "Thank you. That’s unnecessary, but thank you."

They also included a song not from their television series called "1353," a love ballad about a young man who wants to court a proper lady in the 14th century. Like most of their songs, the tale is masterfully – and hysterically – told (this time by Jemaine) as he gets a page-boy haircut, rents a large horse all to "woo a lady." (Guess what, it doesn’t go well.)

It was chiefly the Conchords on stage, but they were joined for some of their performance by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra – actually, a solitary musician named Nigel who came out with his cello.

Between numbers, the back and forth between the musicians supplied ample comic punch as well. Their bits about life on tour – living in fear of becoming super-sized like Elvis thanks to complimentary muffins, experimentation with drugs (to fight allergies) and being trapped in an elevator (Jemaine forgot to press the button) – welcomely deflated the often over-romanticized band notions of living on the road.

The Conchords also skewered celebrities and their adoptive causes by declaring their own opposition to AIDS, famine, and ill treatment of whales (they’re mammals, they shouldn’t be in the water, Jemaine said). It was wonderful to see the Conchords at the Bowl, but if Bret and Jemaine really want to make the world a better place, they should return to television.

-- Martin Miller

Photo: Jemaine Clement, left, and Bret McKenzie. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times.

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