Portlandia Live at Echoplex: Concert Review

Craig Mathew/IFC
Nothing lost in translation for TV's hilarious musical-comedy duo.

Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein celebrate and skewer hipsters for Los Angeles fans of the IFC sketch comedy show.

The line of bearded men and women wearing chunky sweaters and homemade jewelry stretched down the street on a Tuesday night in the east side neighborhood of Los Angeles' Echo Park, if for no other reason than to draw attention to the absurdity of the evening's festivities: a live performance by Portlandia creators, writers and comedy stars Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein.

The duo were at rock club Echoplex to perform the second of two sold-out dates, and those attendees who waited patiently outside were certainly their "people" -- any one could easily play an extra on the IFC sketch series, a visual that was only the first of the night's many self-referential moments.

Armisen and Brownstein (Fred and Carrie, as we'll affectionately refer to them from here) took the stage after a taped introduction from fictional Portland mayor and reggae bass enthusiast Kyle MacLachlan and quickly segued their banter into the series' unofficial musical mission statement, "Dream of the '90s." 

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"Portland is a city where young people go to retire," Fred explained, dropping references to the carefree (and accessible) life of working in coffee shops and studying clowning.

To love Portlandia is to have a certain amount of familiarity with the subject. Knowing the city isn't really important, so long as you understand its stereotypically hipster citizenry. And as Fred and Carrie pointed out in another song from the show ("She's Making Jewelry Now"), there are Portland-esque enclaves all over America -- Echo Park being one of them.

IFC's miniature tour, launched to help promote the series' second season, easily could have been a bizarre hodgepodge of repurposed material, but the hybrid of video segments, musical performance and improv comedy did Portlandia justice.

Guests don't hurt either. Though MacLachlan, who appeared at the Monday show, was sadly M.I.A., Parks and Recreation star Aubrey Plaza joined Fred and Carrie when they came out as the surly feminist shopkeepers of the Women and Women First book store.

Plaza's patented dry delivery warms to level of animated Disney woodland creature in the company of these characters, especially when they dismissed her every suggestion as to how they might expand their inhospitable franchise to L.A..

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The night's other strong skit, recalling the first season's short about a complicated attempt to sign up for a cell phone, found Fred and Carrie thinking about renting a car in Los Angeles. Comedian Kumail Nanjiani came out to reprise the role of unhelpful salesmen, offering them the choice between "body or face" insurance and car models like a "Nissan Impregnate" and "The Secrete."

Fred and Carrie navigating between music and comedy is a funny little dance. Fred, best known for Saturday Night Live, is clearly in his element during the small bits, though he shows an infectious zeal for the singing and guitar. Carrie Brownstein is something else entirely. Adored for over a decade as one third of riot grrrl band Sleater-Kinney, and most recently for her work in Wild Flag, deft musical performances are par for the course. What comes as a shock is how convincingly funny she is in person. Any doubts over her contributions to the duo's material evaporated seeing her natural delivery onstage.

At the conclusion of the brief Q&A -- which touched on topics from the usual tattoos of Portlandia's elderly guest stars to Lana Del Rey's lampooned showing on SNL -- Fred and Carrie brought out Bangles frontwoman Susanna Hoffs. They sang a celebratory chorus of "Happy Birthday" in honor of her 53rd -- yes, really -- birthday, before playing a brief set of Velvet Underground's "Sunday Morning" and the Bangles' de facto hit, "Manic Monday."

It was an appropriately earnest note to finish off a night watching two people do what they seem to love most: singing songs and affectionately mocking themselves.