10:18 am Jun. 29, 2012
If you wanted to, you could have made Thursday Jack Black Day.
You would have started in Soho, watching Black star in Richard Linklater’s Bernie at the Angelika; then rushed over to 11th Avenue and catch him at a taping of The Daily Show; but the best part of Jack Black Day would be its culmination at the Hammerstein Ballroom, where he emerged out of a giant inflatable bird and demanded the crowd recognize that "the D would risen again!"
For a fake band, Tenacious D's history is real enough: after getting discovered by David Cross and establishing a line of credit at the Bank of Indie with an HBO show canceled after just three episodes, the group (comprised of Black and partner Kyle Gass) shot into the mainstream with their self-titled 2006 masterpiece, poking fun at and worshipping the id of '70s heavy metal. Then, like so many Alan Parsons Projects of yore, they overshot creatively, releasing the confusing flop film The Pick of Destiny. After that, silence. And with this year's new album, Rize of the Fenix, they complete the rock-drama-cycle with The Comeback.
As far as victory lap albums go, the album is not a bad one. Gone is the joking bombast about being the greatest band of all time; the word metal isn't even mentioned. Instead they play a little overblown synth, make a little fun of Jimmy Buffet, but generally go for the low-hanging fruit of parody songs (including "Low Hangin' Fruit"). It's not exactly experimentation, but a little spreading of wings, to be sure.
No place for such breeziness in the concert, really. After blasting through the first half of Fenix, Black, Gass, and the backing band launched into "Kickapoo", the opening song from The Pick of Destiny. Besides being a narrative devide from a six-year-old movie very few people saw, "Kickapoo" poses its own challenges, not least of which is that it requires four singers, two of which are Meatloaf (apparently unavailable) and Ronnie James Dio (definitely dead). To get "Kickapoo" in 2012, you've got to be a pretty deep fan, to see The D, be The D, and unironically throw up devil horns for The D.
Lucky enough, it was exactly those kinds of fanatics who showed up.
"Ten years in the making, " said Amy, 24, while waiting to get inside with her friends. Their red, homemade shirts blared "Tits or Destiny?" on the front, and had in-joke slogans like "Jaebles 420" on the back, all written in glitter paint. Such enthusiasm wasn't rare, and showed that while The D has been absent, their cult has only grown.
"I've never been around this many Tenacious D fans!" yelled out Carrie Cammarano, as the Hammerstein neared capacity.
Black and Gass met in an acting class, and their chemistry is palpable. Gass is the group's Buster Keaton, forever stone-faced and technically adapt. Black is Chaplin, manic in intensity and devotion to character. His face was constantly in motion during the concert, a whirlwind of rock sneers, grimaces, and ecstatic expressions.
During the new album favorite "Deth Starr", Black started off on one knee, crooning to the audience, "The world's fucking going to shit./ We gotta stop the overpopulation./ But most importantly", he bellowed, rising to a powerful command, "We got to build a Deth Starr!!!" Cue electric guitars, smashing drums.
“Deth Starr,” a song about building a spaceship and flying it into space to have sex and fight aliens (and not just any aliens, but giant space-squid aliens), It is, like all good comic bits, broad enough to be instantly catchy and detailed enough for nerds (which, by definition, all fans of comic-rock groups are) to sink their teeth into. Onstage, someone in a giant alien-squid costume came out and danced around while Black fired off Nerf darts as he sang (pictured above, below).
Tenacious D’s always been at it’s best when it has let its fanboy colors show, worshipping the bravado, the corny mysticism, and the loud guitars of late-'60s and '70s hard rock and metal. Black and Gass clearly can't get enough of this era, these tropes. They engaged in some banter about their electric guitarist being possessed by Satan before leading into “Bezelboss.” (Lyric: “I’m the Devil,/ I like metal!/ Check this riff,/ it’s fucking tasty!”) From there, the two jumped into an earnest cover of The Who’s “Pinball Wizard.”
Reunions have been plentiful in recent years, with money often being the primary objective. Yet it's hard to imagine Black, one of the world’s most successful actors, or Gass, whose acting career isn't too shabby either, are just cashing in.
Rather it seems they felt that the work of Tenacious D was unfinished. Plus, what's more rock-mythological than getting the band back together? It was a privilege the crowd was only too happy to give them.