Flight of the Conchords, New Zealand’s self-proclaimed “fourth most popular guitar-based digi-bongo a cappella-rap-funk-comedy folk duo,” became international stars in the 2000s thanks to a successful television series that fictionalized their exploits. Formed by actors, comedians, and musicians Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement, Flight of the Conchords were the rare comedy band whose music was often as celebrated as their gags. Their songs fused witty lyrics with music that often parodied various artists and genres, from the trademark sounds of the Pet Shop Boys (“Inner City Pressure”) and David Bowie (“Bowie”) to funk (“Business Time”), psychedelia (“Prince of Parties”), and hip-hop (“Hiphopopotamus vs. Rhymenoceros”). While the group’s initial radio recordings and live performances were low-key and acoustic, they would move on to more professional and full-bodied production for 2008′s Flight of the Conchords and 2009′s I Told You I Was Freaky. After their TV series went out of production, McKenzie and Clement pursued individual acting careers, but they periodically got together for concert tours and charity projects, and Flight of the Conchords released Live in London in 2019.
Flight of the Conchords began when founders Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement were both attending the Victoria University of Wellington. The two were part of a comedy troupe called So You’re the Man, and they split off as a duo in 1998. They made their television debut in 2000, appearing on a local Wellington station, where they performed four songs. In 2002, the duo released their first recordings, Folk the World Tour; it included 12 live songs recorded at shows in Wellington and Auckland, as well as two studio tracks. Also in 2002, they were invited to perform at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, returning the following year, and they also performed at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.
In 2005, Flight of the Conchords appeared on HBO’s series One Night Stand, devoted to live performances by noted comedians, which expanded their audience in the United States, and the same year, they launched a U.K. radio series for the BBC, with the episodes released in a CD package in 2006. In 2007, they delivered The Distant Future, a six-song EP combining live and studio material. Released in the United States by the venerable indie label Sub Pop, The Distant Future won the 2008 Grammy Award for Best Comedy album, and soon the Conchords were regularly performing internationally, headlining at comedy clubs, and appearing at major music festivals such as South by Southwest and Bonnaroo.
In June 2007, McKenzie and Clement debuted the Flight of the Conchords TV series for HBO; the show followed fictionalized versions of the two musicians as they struggled to maintain a career in the United States after relocating to New York, with songs featured in each episode. Sub Pop released an album of songs from the first season, Flight of the Conchords, in April 2008. The album went double platinum in New Zealand, and rose to the top of the Comedy and Independent charts in the United States. The first 12-episode season was enough of a success that HBO renewed it for a second season of ten episodes, which debuted in January 2009. A second album of songs from the series, I Told You I Was Freaky, appeared in 2009. McKenzie and Clement opted not to return for a third season of the series, and the duo went on hiatus as they both pursued individual acting careers.
They reunited in 2012 for a Flight of the Conchords concert tour of New Zealand, with all available seats for the ten shows snapped up in ten minutes. That same year, they released a benefit single for Red Nose Day, “Feel Inside (And Stuff Like That),” which rose to number one on the Kiwi charts and went platinum. In mid-2013, Flight of the Conchords co-headlined the Oddball & Curiosity Festival tour in the United States, sharing top billing with Dave Chappelle as they played large venues across the country. More touring followed for the duo in 2016, and a concert in London was taped for broadcast on HBO. Simply titled Live in London, an album of the performance was issued by Sub Pop in March 2019. ~ Mark Deming