Jack Black is a man needing no introduction. A consummate entertainer and showman, Jack Black – through his many film roles and involvements – has always kept his heart with Tenacious D, the little mock rock band that could. Beginning on a little-watched HBO show of the same name, Tenacious D has rocketed to fame since the release of their self-titled album in 2001. Since then, the band’s unique blend of rock influences and Black’s trademark wild-eyed, no-holds-barred humor have since won the hearts of everyone from junior high students to hip baby boomers, all of whom were present at the Tenacious D’s sold out concert Tuesday night in the Arlington Theater. Despite the somewhat mismatched venue, Tenacious D put on a show of incredible energy and innovation from the opening act to the final bow.
The evening opened with two very unusual opening acts. First up, as the crowd was slowly filing in, was a rap duo by the name of Super Floss. Best described as a hip-hop version of Tenacious D, Super Floss consists of two comedians, a tall Will Ferrell-type by way of Al Franken and his diminutive sidekick. They bounced and rapped their way through songs about everything from man crushes and male lactation to Chuck Norris.
Most profoundly puzzling was the appearance of Neil Hamburger, a bespectacled man with a ratty comb-over in an ill-fitting tux who hacked and gargled through a half-hour of stand-up. The stiff and acerbic comic was distinguished both by his cheesy, raunchy celebrity jokes and the bitter antagonism he developed with the audience, which nearly booed him off the stage. The bizarre comic Neil Hamburger is actually a character of comedian Gregg Turkington, who plays for laughs in the most indirect manner. Whether or not the audience members were in on the joke, they weren’t taking kindly to it. Nonetheless, Hamburger got in some great lines, as when, after the tenth chant for Tenacious D, Hamburger acquiesced, saying:
“I’ve traveled the world during my career, but I’ve had no greater honor than introducing Tenacious D … ‘s curtain! Yes, this curtain is made of the finest silk, and specially transported …”
I laughed. Others swore mightily.
Finally, the curtain fell to reveal a recreation of Kyle Gass’ living room, replete with beer-stocked fridge and a television set to Animal Planet. After performing acoustic renditions of their “Kielbasa” and “Wonderboy,” and a brief skit with Lee, their fan/friend from the TV series, Black and Gass attempt to plug in a ramshackle electric guitar, resulting in their deaths by electrocution.
At this, the concert turned rock opera, styled in the vein of Tenacious D’s television show, with Jack Black’s imitable enthusiasm driving the two-hour set. Following their deaths, JB and KG find themselves in hell, where they recruit the Anti-Christ (“Dude, you look just like Jesus!”), Colonel Sanders and Charlie Chaplin (as guitarist, drummer and bassist, respectively) to form a new and improved Tenacious D. Their performance, amidst crimson spires, fake flames and pentagrams, proves to be so righteous that the devil himself challenges them to a rock-off.
The current tour is promoting the D’s latest album, “The Pick of Destiny,” which doubles as the soundtrack to their recent film of the same title. The set list, from their entrance to hell onward, consisted of the bulk of the album with a few of the lyrics and skits changed to integrate with the plot of the concert, as opposed to the movie plot. Some numbers, like “The Metal,” translated amazingly well live, but a few, like “Car Chase City,” seemed lost without the context of the film.
At the end of the show, the band left the stage but returned for an encore after a chant of “D” resounded through the Arlington.
“We were heading to the roof to board our helicopter,” Black said. “But we heard the chant and told the helicopter to wait.”
The encore began with Black and Gass doing acoustic renditions of “Fuck Her Gently” and “Tribute,” which had been conspicuously missing from the show. Finally, the backup returned to the stage, and, to the astonishment of the crowd, Gass began strumming the opening bars of the Who’s “Pinball Wizard,” the beginning of a full rendition with Tenacious D’s impressive talent and Black’s unique vocal stylings. Perhaps an homage to the innovators of rock opera, to whom the D owe the format of their concert, D’s cover of the Who transcended mere homage and was worthy of a spot on their permanent repertoire. Let’s just hope that it makes it on an album someday.
The greatest surprise of the evening, however, was Tenacious D’s backup. Consisting of lead guitarist John Konesky (the Antichrist), bassist John Spiker (Chaplin) and drummer Brooks Wackerman (Sanders), these three musicians, young in their musical careers, are enormously talented, and provide the D with a spectacularly full sound matching that of their first album, and provide many of the songs from “Pick of Destiny” with a metal-influenced sound and vigor. Although normally overshadowed by Black and Gass’ antics, their lengthy individual solos during the last number, “Double Team,” demonstrated enormous talent. It’s just a shame that they don’t get to experiment more during every song.
Frankly, anyone who’s been alive in the last few years knows that Tenacious D can rock. And the great news is that, no matter the venue, the D rocks every bit as hard live, producing concerts every bit as memorable as the most inspired of D fans could imagine.