As a music fan there are few disappointments more acute than realising that an act you thought you would never get to see in a live environment are touring, but there’s no way you can attend the gig due to matters beyond your control. When me and my partner heard that Flight of the Conchords were doing a UK tour, we were on tenterhooks waiting to find out if they’d play a gig relatively close to us. Hell, even it wasn’t that close, we’d travel to see them live in London. Then when the dates were announced we realised that they coincided with when we were expecting the happy arrival of our first child. Damn it. That might have been our only chance to see Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie live. Oh, and now the dates are rescheduled due to injury… for a couple of months later, which would be much too soon for us to leave our infant daughter for a whole evening for the first time. Oh well.
Released a few months after the HBO television special, the double CD of Live in London is an olive branch to those fans of the band who were not lucky enough to catch them on their UK tour. Sure, you could always watch the video on demand, but many Flight of the Conchords fans are of a generation that still hold their physical media dear, so it’s only sensible that Live in London is released on CD, vinyl and even cassette, though it’s a shame that a three disc set including a DVD or Blu-Ray of the concert is not available (yet…).
In regards to the actual performance, Clement and McKenzie remain imminently likeable, riffing on the distinctly un-rock and roll side of touring, leaning heavily on material that would be unfamiliar to anyone who was expecting a run through songs that were on their much-loved TV show of the previous decade, or on their two studio albums. This lesser heard material is welcome for long term fans of the band, and may convince those who might have been on the fence to put their hands in their pockets to purchase Live in London. The downside is, much of this unfamiliar material is dragged out to unnecessary lengths, with “Summer of 1353” and “Stana” both being twice the length that they had any right to be. It’s not just a problem for the new material though, as you do have to question why they chose to stretch one of their weakest songs, “Foux Da Fafa”, way further than the joke strictly requires.
There are also a couple of head-scratchers when it comes to how they split the concert across two CDs, with the bulk of the main performance on the first disc, the end of the main set, encore and additional tracks on the second disc. Surely common sense would dictate that either the concert be split evenly across the two gigs, or that the entirety of the main set be put on the first disc (something which there was easily space for), with the encore and additional material on the second disc. The approach they chose to take makes for a clumsy listening experience, where you have to switch discs at an odd point during the listening experience. Also, the additional material is just plonked inelegantly as separate tracks at the end, whereas you might have hoped that they could have been stitched into the main performance in a more seamless manner, especially as two of the tracks, “Carole Brown” and “The Most Beautiful Girl (In the Room)” are among their career-best numbers.
This is splitting hairs though, as Live in London is a solid document of a concert that I wish I could have got to, and the live rendition of “Bowie” is nothing short of life-affirming. Flight of the Conchords have evidently lost none of what made them so utterly loveable a decade ago, and the between song anecdotes are as entertaining as the songs themselves. I just wish that the tour had fallen at a time when meant my other half were available to enjoy a great night out, as from all the evidence on this live album, Flight of the Conchords remain at the height of their powers.