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Tuesday, November 20 , 2018, 11:02 pm | Fair 50º


Jeff Moehlis: The Kiwi Invasion

New Zealand's Flight of the Conchords fills the Santa Barbara Bowl with laughter

It’s admittedly hard to top the way the Flight of the Conchords describe themselves, namely as “formerly New Zealand’s fourth most popular guitar-based digi-bongo acapella-rap-funk-comedy folk duo.” But we can add that Flight of the Conchords is also the name of an HBO series in which fictional versions of bandmates Jermaine Clement and Bret McKenzie struggle to make it in New York City. The series heavily features songs that spoof an assortment of genres both musically and lyrically. On Friday night, it was these brilliant songs and accompanying banter that entertained the crowd at the Santa Barbara Bowl.

But first, Arj Barker — an Indian-American stand-up comedian and Flight of the Conchords cast member “Dave,” who is the guy who denies living with his parents — warmed up the crowd with his observations about topics such as the recent problems with pirates (“my rule of thumb is, once something’s a ride at Disneyland, then I don’t expect it to be a threat in real life anymore”), global warming (“when I burn the toast, I don’t blame the bread”), and iPods (“I like to jog for three and a half weeks at a time, and I do not want to hear the same song twice”).

Then the Flight of the Conchords came out dressed in low-tech cardboard robot costumes, singing and dancing to the infectious “Too Many Dicks on the Dancefloor.” Afterward, they deadpanned that audience members are typically surprised when they take the boxes off and reveal that “it’s us.” This set the pattern for the show — accomplished songs with hilarious lyrics, bracketed by deadpan absurdity.

The Conchords’ songs drew mostly from Seasons 1 and 2 of their HBO show, although a few songs have not appeared on the show: the long cowboy yarn “Ballad of Stana,” in which the Satan-anagrammed bad-ass title character breaks laws of nature and physics before meeting his doppelganger Anats; “Hilarious Misunderstanding” in which a woman named Jenny slowly reveals to a man in the park their supposed history together; and the lament called “Bus Driver’s Song” from the duo’s rare 2002 Folk The World Tour live album.

In addition to “Too Many Dicks on the Dancefloor,” highlights included the Serge Gainsbourg-esque “Foux du Fafa,” in which the singer finally has to admit he doesn’t speak French; “Robots” in which robots talk about taking over Earth and featuring a binary solo (0000001…); and the main set-closing “Sugalumps” in which Clement and McKenzie sexed-up the crowd, with McKenzie even jumping into the front section of the audience.

Also particularly fun were “Mutha’uckas,” a swearing-filled song made “clean” by silencing appropriate letters, and “Hiphopopotamus vs. Rhymenoceros,” which features rap so hot that it was claimed to make the ladies in the first five rows pregnant — to quote Clement, “congratulations, bitches,” indeed.

Clement and McKenzie were joined onstage for many songs by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, which consisted only of Nigel on cello after budget cuts necessitated the dismissal of the trumpet player and “Bruce dancing.”

There were several notable funny interactions with the audience. Early in the set, they complained about the cool temperature by pointing out that “you’d think it’d be hot up here from the opening of the the soap opera” Santa Barbara. Shortly thereafter, an audience member threw a blanket onstage, which the cardigan-wearing Clement allowed McKenzie to wear. When, later, a flower was thrown onstage, they complained that “it’s supposed to be panties” that are hurled onstage. This degraded into a claim that they receive more “handicraft” for their performances than, well, think of a phrase for manual stimulation that starts out the same way.

Also, when an audience member asked, “Where’s Murray?” the band manager on the HBO series, they responded that sometimes audience members have trouble grasping that the TV show is fictional, before claiming that Murray was hanging out with Snoopy and Jabba the Hutt. When they were inundated with song requests, Clement deadpanned that “we’ve got a setlist, so we don’t really need you to call out songs.”

I didn’t yell it out, but I do have one request for their next visit — please play the super-brilliant “Ladies of the World.” Until then, keep kickin’ out the jams, mutha’uckas!

Too Many Dicks on the Dancefloor
Hurt Feelings
The Ballad of Stana
The Most Beautiful Girl (In the Room)
Hilarious Misunderstanding (Jenny)
I Told You I Was Freekie
I’m Not Crying
Business Time
Hiphopopotamus vs. Rhymenoceros
Foux du Fafa
Bus Driver’s Song
We’re Both In Love With a Sexy Lady

Albi the Racist Dragon

Noozhawk contributor Jeff Moehlis is an associate professor of mechanical engineering at UCSB.

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