Flight of the Conchords, NIA, Birmingham
Pavement, Brixton Academy, London

Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie's anti-folk television duo are superstars of comic pastiche, now the Conchords show they're also top flight on stage

In spite of two hit HBO series syndicated worldwide, millions of DVD and album sales, and now big enough to fill 12,000-seater hangars such as the NIA, Flight of the Conchords still don't look the part, with the indie/lo-fi sensibility of the show, the zen stoner feel and the in-jokey nature of its humour.

Flight of the Conchords – real version (or semi-real, but we'll come to that) – are the genius double act of Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie. Half-Maori Jemaine is the nerdy, bespectacled Jeff Goldblum lookalike in a plaid shirt whose speciality is putting on super-falsetto or basso profundo voices while playing an unconvincing Mr Loverman. Bret (or "Brit" in his Kiwi accent) is the bearded pretty boy in a washed-out Silver Lions 20/20 T-shirt who specialises in pulling the mock-soulful facial expressions of the pseudo-sincere rocker.

Flight of the Conchords – fictional version – are an anti-folk duo from New Zealand living illegally in New York trying to break America. It's the comedy of failure; it's a subtle satire of the immigrant experience, and it's also an elongated buddy movie in half-hour instalments. But the real hook – the reason why it's adored by so many – is the music.

The plot premise that the Conchords are desperate genre-hoppers allows them to tackle any musical style they choose. Their pastiches are never too on the nose, executed with the subtlety and wit of men who know music inside out. The joke's always ultimately on the Conchords themselves.

We get homages to Prince on "The Most Beautiful Girl in the Room" ("You could be a part-time model ... an air hostess in the Sixties ..."); Barry White on "Business Time" ("I take off my clothes, but I trip over my jeans, and I'm still wearing my shoes ... but it's OK, because I turn it all into a sexy dance"); Marvin Gaye on "Think About It" ("Why are we still paying so much for sneakers when you got them made by little kid slaves? What are your overheads?"); a 10cc/John Waite denial song in "I'm Not Crying" ("I'm cooking lasagna ... for one"); and the charity fundraiser "Epileptic Dogs" ("There's a golden retriever that's having a seizure ...").

Regardless of the humour, these are brilliant songs. The ultimate, also unplayed, is lighter-waving anthem "Pencils in the Wind", an extended stationery metaphor which is as silly as it is genuinely touching. I actually had it played at my wedding.

Tonight, using an assortment of miniature instruments and the New Zealand symphony orchestra (who is one cellist called Nigel), the Conchords perform highlights from their song-book, expanded to include verses unheard on TV, as well as a handful of brand new tunes, raising hopes that there may be a third series after all. "1353", a medieval folk ballad about "wooing a lady" and featuring duelling recorders, is crying out for a video.

A heckle of "Where's Murray?" (a reference to their hapless manager, played by Rhys Darby) is slapped down thus: "He's with all the other fictional characters of the world ..." There's an undeniable fiction/reality continuum with these guys. Bret and Jemaine are playing Bret and Jemaine, as proven by the knowingly tedious tour anecdotes about eating muffins in the hotel (not in the Aerosmith sense). How these perennial losers ended up playing the arena circuit is a hole in the plot that has yet to be explained, but everyone's laughing too hard to care.

When they aren't laughing, they're making ovine baas. Which eventually becomes too much for Jemaine, who's clearly encountered this one before. "You think you're so clever, but you probably don't know what you're saying in sheep language."

Speaking of pastiche acts .... When Mark E Smith first heard Pavement, he thought he was listening to one of his own live recordings from the mid-1980s. Smith's influence on Pavement's early material was blatant, most notably on the lopsided post-punk of "Conduit for Sale!", but there was also a melodic side to the preppy Californians, who were as much influenced by Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers as The Fall.

Pavement were always a difficult band to warm to. By accident or design, they epitomised the Slacker "movement" ("stasis" seems a more fitting noun), which was, in retrospect, a Clinton-era luxury. The Generation X-ers were afforded the freedom to sit around feeling misunderstood and letting their hair grow, but the time for slacking passed long ago.

Hearing their reunion gigs after a 10-year hiatus, then, one cannot escape a feeling of anachronism, and there's only so much Pavement you can listen to without wanting to scream at them to stand up straight, especially when the lead singer is 43.

Pavement's permanent listless vagueness was the sound of drumsticks gripped too loosely, guitars that hadn't been tuned for days, and a vocalist who sounded like Emo Phillips having a breakdown. A certain shambolicism is therefore part of the deal, but they're still woefully under-rehearsed. The once-gorgeous "In Her Mouth a Desert" falls to pieces midway through, and guitarist Spiral Stairs hits more bum notes than a proctologist's filing cabinet.

But when they're good, oh my they're good. "Zurich is Stained" and "Trigger Cut" are unbreakably beautiful, and when he directs his ire at other bands, Malkmus' lyrics are priceless. Take "Out on tour with the Smashing Pumpkins/Nature kids, they don't have no function/I don't understand what they mean and I could really give a fuck", or "What about the voice of Geddy Lee? How did it get so high? I wonder if he speaks like an ordinary guy ...".

Over their heads, a canopy of fairy lights hangs on sagging cables. They slouch, but they sparkle. Likewise Pavement themselves.

Next Week:

Simon Price sees Alicia Keys try to get thousands of Brummies to wail their love for New York

Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift performs at the 2014 iHeart Radio Music Festival
music review
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
Arts and Entertainment
Miranda Hart has called time on her award-winning BBC sitcom, Miranda
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Boy George performing with Culture Club at Heaven

musicReview: Culture Club performs live for first time in 12 years

Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing
books

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

music
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

art
Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

    The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

    Paul Scholes column

    I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
    Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker