The Grammy-winning Flight of the Conchords have always had a devoted following, one that's grown through HBO specials and appearances on the BBC. In 2007, their fanbase exploded when they followed in the footsteps of Tenacious D, landing an HBO series with a semi-sit-com format molded around their song repertoire. But where Tenacious D slaps you in the face with cum jokes, the Conchords employ a subtler combination of straight-man geekiness and genuine charisma.
It was that combination that sold out the Orpheum Tuesday night; the crowd was already riled to the point of heckling when opening comedian Arj Barker came onstage. With Comedy Central specials and Conan appearances under his belt (as well as a supporting role on the Flight of the Conchords' own show), Barker's a pretty big deal for an opener, but unassuming--and his set was uproarious, happily including his Google bit.
Without waiting for an intermission, the Conchords took over to the screams of their front-row female admirers. Jemaine, the heavy-browed baritone settled comfortably into his seat on the left and nerdier tenor Bret on the right, hunched over his guitar with the concentration of a turntablist. The duo launched into "The Humans Are Dead", a joyous song of xenocide performed in the persona of murderous robots from the distant future(The humans are dead/we used poisonous gasses/and poisoned their asses).
Like a lot of quirk-folk these days, the Conchords owe much of their popularity to the internet; their live shows have been archived on YouTube since their inception. Since fans are able to call up entire live shows at will, it's become challenging for many performers to make each show something new--but the traditionally acoustic Conchords proved up to the challenge as they fiddled with a table full of electronic paraphernalia, including an Omnichord, a keytar, and a digital sax. For one song, Jemaine pulled out what at first view looked like an Apple laptop, but turned out to be a glockenspiel; or as he called it, a rockenspiel ("Because it rocks more").
At one point, the traditional call for "Freebird" was raised, and the duo obliged--to their surprise, the audience joined in heartily. Bret tried to turn his mic towards the crowd, but instead tipped over his microphone into the front row, smacking a lady in the head on its way down and sending the audience into further paroxysms of laughter.
All the favorites were played ("Hiphopopotamus vs. Rhymenoceros," "Jenny," "Business Time," "Bowie's in Space") with interludes between each where the improvised, stilted back-and-forth between Bret and Jemaine came to the fore. The Conchords are masters of understatement and quietly delivered humor, punctuated for American audiences by their Kiwi accents--Bret started a joke by saying that he'd been walking around Dinkyville, and the rest of the joke was lost in the audience's uproar.
Conchords played a long set, and they finished strong in their encore with a newer tune, Freakiocity, and an extended keytar solo from Bret, who jumped offstage and ran through the audience, his amp cord coming unplugged with every change of direction and the front-row fangirls fondling the ivories. It was a perfect end-cap crescendo in an otherwise low-key performance by today's kings of comedy folk.