The Scene: In the ‘80s, Spinal Tap turned it up to 11 and solidified rock’s reputation of walking the fine line between being stupid and clever. Spinal Tap worked on multiple levels: in addition to their relentless dry humor, the seemingly fictional band blurred the lines between fantasy and reality by writing and performing the music and eventually hitting the road for a full-fledged tour. Like many expert comedians, Spinal Tap managed to become worthy contributors to the world they were making fun of and over the past 15 years, Tenacious D have achieved a similarly triumphant feat. What began as a short-lived cult classic HBO series has resulted in three studio albums, tours, a feature film (which sadly bombed), and collaborations with respectable rock artists. The star power of Jack Black is certainly a beneficial element to the equation, yet The D has managed to take on a life of its own.
Last week, thousands of Comic-Con faithful, metalheads, frat boy rock fans, and other interested observers descended on Red Rocks when Tenacious D brought their tunes and live band to the famed amphitheater. It was a date that the band and fans alike had “circled on their calendar” and the performance was a memorable one that featured tight musicianship, numerous comedic interludes, and a set list that spanned the group’s past decade of crude, hooky songs. Hell it should have been, according to Jack Black they had been “saving mustard all tour for this one.”
Opener: The Sights. The beautiful, late July evening kicked off with an opening set from The Sights, a rock band from Detroit. The group delivered a performance that was loose, loud, and energetic. The bluesy, hard rock approach was complemented nicely with horn fills and a Hammond organ as frontman (and Tom Petty lookalike) Eddie Baranek worked the stage with dirty guitar leads, subtle dance moves, and even a harmonica solo. Stylistically, the material was a bit redundant, but the band received a great response from the crowd.
Tenacious D: As the stage was being set for the main event, the lights were dimmed multiple times to trick fans into thinking the show was about to begin. Finally, Jack Black and Kyle Gass arrived onstage with an appropriately dramatic entrance as they slowly marched to their microphones and removed their LED-lit bathrobes. The duo, joined by an incredibly talented three piece band, opened the show with a flurry of songs from their recent album Rize of the Fenix. The seven song barrage of new material featured everything from the albums opening title track that trumpeted the return of the mighty duo, to epic ballad “Roadie” that paid tribute to the men in black behind the scenes who ensure all rock shows go on as planned.
Many in the crowd knew every word to the new songs and while the songs left plenty of room for the group to showcase their hard rock chops and Jack Black’s amazingly spot on vocals, hardcore fans were itchin’ for the old chestnuts. When the distinct acoustic string bends to “Kielbasa” rang out, fans were ecstatic. Other songs such as “Wonderboy,” “Tribute,” and a medley of Who songs were also received with open arms by the nearly full venue. As you can imagine, in addition to their comically charged songs that kept The Rocks in stitches for most of the evening, Black and Gass delivered some amusing routines involving marathon Jazz tunes, John Denver, and expectedly, Kyle losing his patience and quitting and rejoining the band for the millionth time.
As mentioned earlier, Tenacious D’s crude humor is often at the forefront of the band’s reputation, yet the musical prowess of the band is very respectable and often understated. While Kyle Gass is an impressive guitarist who plays fast, electric-style rock leads on his acoustic and accompanies Black on tight dual rhythm parts, the additional musicians who rounded out the band’s sound were also given some well deserved time in the spotlight. The group’s lead electric guitarist (John Konesky) proved to be the ace up the band’s sleeve on numerous occasions by laying down tasty, heavy riffs during “The Metal” and also played the role of the Devil during “Beelzeboss.”
As the set wound to a close, the duo tore into “Double Team” off their self titled album and the giant inflatable Phoenix that had loomed behind them all night began to lean it’s head down over the stage. Gasps of recognition rippled through the crowd as fans of all ages realized what the “Fenix” has been reminding them of all night, a giant cock-n-balls! When the song reached it’s climax, so did the Phoenix, and an explosion of white confetti shot out it’s head and drifted high in the air over the crowd. It was the perfect gag to end the set on and Black and Gass disappeared into the wings.
While the duo waited off stage for a few minutes, the crowd chanted “Fuck Her Gently” in reference to one of the group’s most beloved songs. The D soon returned and gave everyone what they were waiting for with a three song encore that included “Baby,” “Jesus Ranch,” and yes . . . even “Fuck Her Gently.”
Offstage, the band offered plenty of quality accessories at their merch booth, including vinyl pressings of Rize of the Fenix and even an official Tenacious D cum rag. As I filed out of the venue that night, I couldn’t resist buying the ancient warrior themed event poster and a t-shirt featuring an alternative take on the classic 1970s Dawn of the Dead movie artwork. It was a fitting end to a solid Red Rocks show this summer.
Stage Presence: A+
Set / Light show: A