Published Mar 05, 2019Flight of the Conchords are comedians first and folk musicians second, and their songs are all punchline. That's why their two studio albums — 2008's self-titled and 2009's I Told You I Was Freaky — were the low points of their late '00s cultural takeover: They featured the musical material without the absurdly deadpan banter setups that were just as important as the songs themselves. The records retained little of the candour that made Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement household names.
Audiences of their live shows, TV specials and acclaimed HBO scripted series will be thrilled to find that Live in London is easily the best recording Flight of the Conchords have ever released. Their second live album, following 2002's Folk the World Tour, finds the duo settling nicely into their roles as elder statesmen of musical comedy, deftly moving through banter and song alike with a sense of meticulously honed comedic timing that makes classics like "Foux du Fafa," "Bowie" and "Robots" land so well, even though fans have heard them plenty over the past 20 years.
The duo have kept busy since their eponymous HBO show went off the air in 2009 — most notably, McKenzie won an Oscar for his work on The Muppets, while Clement wrote, directed and starred in cult vampire comedy What We Do in the Shadows — but they haven't lost their skill at turning life's mundanities into canvasses for relatable existential musings while covering impressive stylistic ground with little more than a pair of guitars and a piano, as shown through the several new songs on the record. Notable new standouts include "Father and Son," where Clement nails his role as a struggling divorcé, and "Seagull," which skewers soft rock songs with extended nautical metaphors.
Between the songs, the Conchords' banter highlights the good-natured affability that has endeared them to audiences worldwide. Though there's nothing particularly revelatory about what they do — just the same middling workplace romances and wry, clever observations about daily life — they acknowledge the representational shortcomings of their two-man setup, and showcase how comedy can still feel refreshing and engaging without needing to be overly boundary-pushing.
The inclusion of bits like "New Zealand Symphony Orchestra" and the complimentary muffin story — both mainstays of their live set — let the Conchords' self-effacing charm shine through sans musical accompaniment, proving that they're every bit as delightfully dorky as their in-song characters.
Sure, some patches stretch on without visual cues to aid them along, but they're few and far between. With hits old and new, and plenty of the charming banter that have endeared Clement and McKenzie to audiences across the world for decades, Live in London is the definitive audio version of the Flight of the Conchords experience. (Sub Pop)