Although I live in Japan, the ubiquity of media including the internet(s) and 200-channel cable TV etc. means that I'm able to be fully immersed in Japanese culture but still stay in tune to what's happening back in North America and around the world. Yet, some things still get past me. Flight of the Conchords is one of those things. I never heard of them until my friend Deryn, an expatriate from Christchurch, said he thought I'd like this talented duo from Wellington (New Zealand) since I often talk about how ordinary professionals can learn much about presentation from great comedians, musicians, and other stage performers. He was right — I get a huge kick out of Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie, the young pair who make up Flight of the Conchords. I'm not sure how to describe what they do: Their act is sort of like a Kiwi mix of Seinfeld meets the Smothers Brothers if they were folk/hip-hop musicians... Actually, they defy description, but they are simply brilliant without fancifulness, pretense or gimmickery. In their own words, Flight of the Conchords bill themselves as "Formerly New Zealand's fourth most popular guitar-based digi-bongo a-capella-rap-funk-comedy folk duo." They have had great success over the past few years especially; their TV show in the States has been picked up for a 2nd year on HBO. But it is their simple, live, analog performances that I find so compelling and fresh. These two guys have stumbled on to something special; it's raw and real and quite odd (but odd in a good way—we need more "odd" and more "weird"). They are a delight.
Going analog and the art of storytelling
Humor is an odd duck, so you may not find them funny or remakable at all, but millions of people around the world do, including me. In the clips below what stands out is their naturalness, their self-deprecating nature, their body language, and their ability to simply and without complication make a connection with their audience as they paint pictures with their lyrics and subtle humor and use their guitars and wit to make visceral connections.
A story about a simple conversation
People are attracted to story. Watch Jemaine and Bret below keep an audience engaged and following their words even when it's a story "about nothing" at all really.
Business Time below was made into a slicker music video, but this simple analog version is better. The facial expressions are priceless and go along way toward amplifying the message. It's also a good example of why sometimes visuals are not needed — going completely naked sans slides forces you to use just your words, your nonverbal language, and in this case the music. In a sense, then, *they* are the visuals. To me at least, this duo live is one of the best things I've seen on stage in a long time. It's no wonder they are having such success; it's well deserved.
Talkin' about the issues
OK, this one below is a bit weird and perhaps not "politically correct" for some folks, but if you liked the first two clips (and were not offended) you may find this song enjoyable as well. The absurdity of the lyrics are an evocative juxtaposition to the light, upbeat pop riff underlying their words. I just love the simplicity and subtlety of their off-beat and slightly awkward humor and I envy their ability to connect with a live audience.
Flight of the Conchords - A Texan Odyssey Part 1
If you are now a fan of Flight of the Conchords then you may be interested in this 10-minute clip from a New Zealand TV show that chronicled the duo's trip to the SXSW Music Festival in Austin a couple of years ago.
You can sample songs off their new album on Amazon here, but personally it is their slightly awkward stage presence and chemistry that I find most appealing. The DVD of the first year of their HBO TV series is out now out as well (I've heard nothing but goods things about this show — can't wait to get my DVD).