Flight Of The Conchords
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- Wembley Arena, London »
Wembley Arena is an aircraft hangar of a venue - and one that's dedicated not to flight, but to commerce. Pretty much every aspect of the supra-gig experience is dedicated to parting each of the 12,000 punters from as much of their cash as possible - whether that's through one of the countless bars, the extortionately-priced food, or the enormous merchandise stalls. When you're in the auditorium itself, meanwhile, it resembles a battery farm with a sea of humanity cooped up inside, punctuated only by the occasional Mexican wave as someone exits for the loo or enters bearing lager.
It's a long way, then, from the tiny venues and miniscule audiences that most will be used to be seeing Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie play in - even if that impression does come largely from the Flight of the Conchords TV show. How will the pair's understated humour translate into a place this size? Will it still be funny?
Well, the immediate answer to the question of how the act will work in a place the size of Wembley is pretty obvious from the outset: big fucking screens, coupled with an awful lot of closeups. As you'd expect from a band that came from a tv show (from a radio show from a stage show) the emphasis is just as much on the staging and the visual aspects of the gig as the auditory: opener 'Two Many Dicks' nicely apes Daft Punk's act in FOTC's own lo-fi style, with cardboard boxes replacing helmets. Indeed, it's the interplay between the slickness of the actual show, the cod-incompetence familiar from the TV, and moments of honest-to-god actual cock-ups which provides much of the humour during the evening - whether it's anecdotes about the band's 'rock and roll' muffin eating or Jemaine forgetting the bridge to 'Prince of Parties' and having to play it at about half-speed.
In fact, there are points where it feels like that's about the extent of the comedy. The band's attempts at audience participation fall flat - partly due to the size of the venue, and partly due to the frankly bonkers decision to make the entire place seated like a comedy gig rather than standing like a music gig - and a slightly ugly mood emerges when Bret seemingly gets annoyed at an impromptu singalong to 'Albi the Racist Dragon'. It's a tribute to the goodwill for these guys that they rescue the gig with a storming version of 'Bowie'. It's a shame, too, as their musical performances are more than equal to their comedic performances: familiar songs like 'Robots' and 'Business Time' are rearranged and extended, new songs are aired, less familiar tracks like 'Jenny' get an outing: and it works.
However, the question over whether this is a comedy or a music gig goes pretty much to the heart of the issues with this gig. Like any musicians, these two feed off reactions from the crowd: by restricting the audience to their seats, there's no dancing, there's no immediate reaction other than laughter - and one part of the equation that makes this duo so special is somewhat nullified, and emphasises a lack of connection. In fact, it's not until the final song, where both Bret and Jemaine get offstage and into the audience for a storming version of 'Sugar Lumps' that the Conchords find the connection that's been eluding them all night long and the place really comes alive.
Wembley is without a doubt an intimidating place, and it takes a lot for a band to hold it in the palm of their hand. Bigger acts than Flight of the Conchords have come here and done worse - even so, the New Zealand twosome don't make this the triumph it should be, despite their best efforts.
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