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

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment
V&A museum in London

Art Piece taken off website amid 'severe security alert'

Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Wu-Tang Clan will sell only one copy of their album Once Upon A Time In Shaolin
musicWu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own only copies of their latest albums
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper, Alessandro Nivola and Patricia Clarkson on stage

film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
News
art

‘Remember the attackers are a cold-blooded, crazy minority’, says Blek le Rat

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.

    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
    Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

    Diana Krall interview

    The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
    Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

    Pinstriped for action

    A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

    'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

    Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

    Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
    Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us