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MUSIC REVIEW

The Conchords fly high, comically speaking

By Sarah Rodman
Globe Staff / April 21, 2009
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When a comedy act reaches arena-level popularity it usually has the slick, rat-a-tat edge of an arena rock band.

On Friday night at the Agganis Arena, Flight of the Conchords was much more like an indie rock band that has somehow found itself on the big stage, all scruffy charm and three-quarters baked improvisation. The New Zealand comedy duo, which has its eponymous HBO series to thank for drawing upward of 7,000 people to the show, played a rambling, sidesplitting 90-minute set armed only with acoustic guitars, comically rinky-dink keyboards and drum kit, and their estimable wits. Oh yeah, and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, a.k.a. cellist Nigel.

"We're a band basically. And in between we do some talking," explained one half of the Conchords Bret McKenzie early on in the show. "It's talking like you would do, just more professional," chimed in his partner in rhyme and HBO primetime Jemaine Clement.

Much of the pair's humor comes from the contrast between their polite, deadpan exterior and their overwrought emoting during their tunes. One minute McKenzie was imperceptibly quitting the band - he helpfully informed us of this - and the next he and Clement were gushing about "Hurt Feelings" via an all-nonsense gangsta rap. They also cycled through the many voices of David Bowie on "Bowie" and got their disco on with the poor female-to-male nightclub ratio lament "Too Many [Men] on the Dancefloor." One of the night's highlights was the spaghetti western epic "The Ballad of Stana," the tale of a sinister gunslinger whose name is "the word Satan with the letters cleverly rearranged to sound like an acceptable name."

Fan favorites translated well outside of the context of the show including the sexy soul jams "Business Time" and "Sugalumps."

The middle slot was ably held by Kristen Schaal, who plays the Conchords' loose-screw superfan Mel on the TV series. Mining absurdist territory that was funny in both the "ha-ha" and "strange" departments, she scored laughs with, among other bits, the secret thoughts of a well-used mattress.

Locally grown funnyman Eugene Mirman, who also appears on the HBO show, killed the opening slot with his equally quirky musings.

FLIGHT OF THE CONCHORDS

With Kristen Schaal

and Eugene Mirman

At: the Agganis Arena, Friday night