New Zealand’s Flight of the Conchords flying high

May 8th, 2008 - 11:40 am ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Paul McCartney
By David Barber
Wellington, May 8 (DPA) New Zealand is mainly known around the world for butter and cheese, lamb and kiwi fruit and for being the country that produced Edmund Hillary, the first man to climb the world’s highest peak, Mount Everest. It is not exactly famous for producing pop stars, though Neil Finn and his band Crowded House did reach number 12 on the US hit parade with their debut album 22 years ago.

But now two unassuming young Kiwis, Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement, have eclipsed that with a CD that soared to number three in the US Billboard charts in the first week of its release last month, out-selling America’s current top pop starlet Ashlee Simpson.

The disc topped internet download sales in the first week, according to Billboard, while the music magazine NME said they caused a “Beatles-like frenzy” when they performed in Los Angeles.

It reported that hundreds of screaming fans had to be turned away in a crowd rivalling that for Paul McCartney, who played at the same venue, Amoeba Records, last year.

Better known as Flight of the Conchords, the pair won the comedy Grammy for their “EP The Distant Future”, which followed a hit sitcom series, where they portrayed themselves as struggling musicians trying to make the grade in New York, on the American HBO television network.

HBO, which produced hit shows like “Sex and the City” and “The Sopranos”, took a gamble on the Kiwis on the strength of a quirky six-part BBC radio series after Television New Zealand had turned them down as too off-the-wall for mainstream programming.

The HBO series gave them cult status in New York and the network has commissioned another 12 episodes.

The self-deprecating duo promote themselves as New Zealand’s “fourth most popular folk parody band” and parody is their specialty.

David Bowie, James Blunt, Jack Johnson, the Pet Shop Boys, French pop and soul are all targets for their biting satire in original tunes with titles like “Hiphopopotamus vs. Rhymenoceros” and “Mutha’uckas” produced with brilliant musical artistry and extraordinary vocalisation.

“It’s clever stupidity at its most endearing,” wrote reviewer Heath McCoy in Canada’s Calgary Herald. “But half the fun in listening to the Conchords’ songs is in figuring out who or what they’re spoofing.”

In London’s Daily Telegraph, Mark Monahan wrote, “Fusing solid song-writing, musicianship, and now production to a fond but merciless ear for pop pretensions and conventions, their great trick is to sound as though they’re trying to be sultry, sexy or cool but get it heroically wrong.”

It has not been a case of overnight stardom for the talented pair who got together 10 years ago after meeting at Wellington’s Victoria University, where McKenzie was studying music and Clement drama.

Both dropped out and McKenzie played keyboards in one band and drums in another, while Clement helped write a script and music for a movie he also acted in, as they began their comedy act, winning plaudits at the Edinburgh Festival in 2003 which led to a couple of shows in London’s West End.

Goofy as the pair appear, New Zealand’s ambassador in Washington, Roy Ferguson, says, “Flight of the Conchords has been terrific for New Zealand’s image in the US.

“New Zealand is seen as a whole lot more chic and attractive right now.”

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