By Tori Bedford and Jason Turesky
NEWPORT, RI–New Zealand’s fourth most popular folk duo, Flight of the Conchords, brought two decades of friendship to the Newport Folk Festival main stage on Friday, reinterpreting their classic repertoire and introducing new material.
The set was half music, half jokes. Mostly talking. “Most bands in New Zealand are one-man bands,” Clement riffed. “I had a one-man band named ‘Jemaine’ and Bret was in a one-man band named ‘Bret’… we formed a super-group.
The super-group of two spiced up older material with new accents, new opera interludes, and the same dry sense of humor fans have come to expect, particularly on the subject of their own artistry. “We’re more like a cover band of ourselves,” McKenzie said. “The new songs we don’t know very well and the old songs we don’t remember very well,” Clement said, “so we’d prefer if you don’t film us.”
Delving into “Robots,” Clement sang, “the distant future/the year 2000… we wrote this ages ago.”
The band spoke to the excess of their rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, regaling the audience with a story about Clement leaving a half-eaten banana backstage.
The band worked as a comedy team for years, finally becoming famous in the U.S. after landing a show on HBO in 2007 about a fictionalized version of themselves trying to make it big as Flight of the Conchords in New York City. Each episode featured the songs from the band that have become staples of their live performances. The show ended in 2009 after two seasons, but the songs lived on through live shows, evolving through each iteration.
Songs like “Business Time” and “You’re So Beautiful” featured new lyrics and musical quirks, without veering too far from the greatest-hits-meets-new-jokes theme. As always, the friendship on stage is entertainment enough.
“Foux de Fa Fa” included a longer faux-French back and forth between Clement and McKenzie, while they mashed “Motha’uckas” and “Hurt Feelings” into a medley, and “Too Many Dicks” arrived in folk-song form, played up as a tribute to the Newport crowd.
Early on in their set, Clement announced that the band would be accompanied by the entire New Zealand Orchestra, which was revealed to be one man: cellist Nigel Collins.
The kiwi folk comedy duo introduced three new songs throughout the set. In the first, “Father and Son,” the duet devolved into a desperate attempt from the father (Clement) to extract more information from the son (McKenzie) about his mother’s new boyfriend, Trevor.
“The Ballad of Stana” was sung in American accents, “so it’s a lot easier for you to understand,” and told the story of “a dangerous man, born with a gun in his hand”— an ultra-American, gun-toting, goat-groping cowboy with a serious anger management problem. “The worst guys have really tiny penises, that’s where all their anger comes from!” Clement said between verses. “Really tiny penises and really tiny hands too!”
That was the first of two mentions Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump received during the show. The second popped up during “What’s Wrong With The World Today,” wherein Clement and McKenzie listed the “issues,” while “keeping it funky.” The issues being:
· Don’t vote for Donald Trump
· Don’t eat whales for dinner
· Don’t eat the bees (A bee appeared onstage during the set).
During the third new song, “Seagull,” (freaturing McKenzie as a metaphorical seagull, with Clement providing psychoanalysis) Clement brought out a notebook to read the lyrics. “this song is so new I have to bring my notes,” he said. “Have you ever heard of someone that rock and roll that they took a notebook on stage? Probably Mick Jagger, early on.”
The duo, not ones for pomp and circumstance, skipped past the standard encore procedure, opting to play the final two songs without leaving the stage. “Bowie’s in Space,” the first of two encores, ended the show with a poignant tribute to a late legend, a man who intertwined performance, style, musical ability, and most importantly: not taking one’s self too seriously.