The Conchords take Flight at TBPAC
At concerts, I'm a lot of That Guys.
I'm That Guy Who Screams the Lyrics Along With the Singer. I'm That Guy Who's Always Holding a Digital Camera in the Air, Snapping Blurry Photos. I'm That Tall, Sweaty Guy Who Insists on Blocking Your View of the Stage.
One That Guy I am not, however, is That Guy Who Screams Random Words and Phrases at the Band, Thus Completely Derailing the Show. That Guy, I most assuredly am not.
Unfortunately, That Guy was in the house Monday night at Flight of the Conchords' show at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center. He was there, and he brought friends.
And that's how things at the concert got a little tense.
See, this was opening night of Flight of the Conchords' national tour, which meant the band had plenty of kinks to fix, songs to iron out, and timing and stage banter to tweak. These things don't work themselves out overnight*, and they generally require a little patience on the part of the audience.
Last week, I asked Kristen Schaal**, who plays the band's obsessive fan Mel on their HBO show, if she based Mel on anyone in particular. She said no; Mel was actually an amalgam of some of Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie's real-life fans. "They would just tell me stories about their fans, and then I sort of tried to meld the personality together," she said.
I believe it. It's impressive enough that the band just about sold out the 2,610-seat Carol Morsani Hall at TBPAC, but I saw a bunch of fans with homemade costumes, T-shirts and props (i.e., a ukelele). All that was missing was Mel's disturbing fan art.
Their enthusiasm, it seems, simply could not be contained.
TBPAC is ostensibly a classy venue, a world-class theater that next week will host David Sedaris, classical violinist Midori and a performance of Charles Gounod's Faust***. One would think Flight of the Conchords knew what they were doing when they booked a show there.
But it seemed not everyone was willing to let atmosphere dictate behavior. On multiple occasions, the band had to shush the audience from shouting out song suggestions -- sometimes cheekily, sometimes with a little more pepper.
"If you want to talk," Jemaine joked, "write a note."
"Send it to Bret and Jemaine, New Zealand," Bret added.
That didn't stop them. The chants kept coming.
"I love you Jemaine!"
"Bring it, Bret!"
"Shush," Jemaine said. "What did we say about the notes?"
"That's no way to talk to your friends," Bret said.
"You're making it hard to concentrate," Jemaine said at one point. "This is our first show of the tour. We've barely got it together."
Shortly thereafter, Jemaine apologized, tongue in cheek, for getting snippy toward the audience. Which did nothing to stop the screams.
"You guys have a completely different setlist than us," McKenzie said.
To be fair, the same could be said of the band. There were setlists taped to the stage, but the duo seemed to abandon them midway through the show. There were stretches between songs where they mulled what to play next. Even when the band did pick a song, there were slipups. Clement dropped the lyrics to a few songs, including If You're Into It.
And then there was Carol Brown. A lovely bossa nova ode to ex-girfriends in the vein of 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover, the song requires Clement to play a complicated electronic instrument that looks a bit like a miniature boogie board covered in knobs. It's also got a drawn-out fermata**** near the end of each chorus, which is supposed to go: "Carol Brown just took the bus out of townnnnn ... but I'm hoping that you'll stick around."
Here's what happened Monday:
Bret and Jemaine: "Carol Brown just took the bus out of townnnnn ... "
That Guy: "Australia!"
Bret and Jemaine: (lose the beat and have to stop the song)
Bret: "Good one. Look what we did. Security? Security?"
Now see here. Shouting "Australia!" at a band from New Zealand, especially a band that pokes fun at Australia-New Zealand relations on its TV show, is bad enough form in its own right. To do so in the middle of any song is just insulting. To do so in the middle of a song like Carol Brown is flat-out sadistic.
So yeah, things got a little weird. The band knew it, and they knew it was affecting the gig. After a brief, ad-libbed performance of the Flight of the Conchords theme, Bret told the fans: "Well, that must have reminded you of being at home, watching TV. The TV show is more reliable."
"If I was a reviewer," Jemaine said, "I'd say this show was meandering."
"Inconsistent," added Bret.
Duly noted, gentlemen. And it's worth noting that the consensus opinion I heard from fans leaving the venue was overwhelmingly positive. Mishaps aside, Flight of the Conchords are the most legitimate comedic rock stars since Spinal Tap, and songs like Business Time, Think About It, and Hurt Feelings killed. Totally worth the price of admission, and then some, even if we did have to put up with That Guy.
And besides, not all the fans were total That Guys. Check out the Tough Brets: From left, USF students Matt Ferrara, Brittanie Drinosky, Sarah Coit and Liz Hubbs.
Fearsome though they were, the Tough Brets couldn't hold a candle to 9-year-old Nicholas Plummer of Tampa.
The humans are dead dead dead dead dead dead dead dead dead!
Next up on the 50-50 Club: Lady Gaga, Tuesday night at the Ritz Ybor.
-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*
* As I know from my many years on the rock 'n roll highway.
** Please watch your toes, as I seem to be dropping names all over the place.
*** Full disclosure: Last fall, TBPAC also hosted Carlos Mencia.
**** Oh, yes: I took band.