No one was very surprised when Tenacious D -- the duo composed of vocalist/guitarist Jack Black and guitarist/backing vocalist Kyle Gass -- finally made it big. It was clear early on that the D had something special, even if the meager audiences that showed up for weekly open-mike appearances at a Los Angeles club at first failed to recognize that.
Armed with nothing more than a pair of acoustic guitars and two microphones, the D experienced a kind of physical catharsis onstage, transporting audiences to that rarely traveled stylistic purgatory between Beethoven, Simon and Garfunkel, Whitesnake and the soundtrack to Jesus Christ Superstar. Demonstrating an almost telepathic connection onstage, Black and Gass braved topics ranging from the martial arts ("With karate I kick your ass/From here to right over there . . . You broke the rules/Now I'll pull out all your pubic hair") to friendship ("Kyle Quit") to the pending retirement of Ronnie James Dio ("He has songs of wildebeests and angels/He has soared on the wings of a demon/You're too old to rock/No more rockin' for you"). Tenacious D's performances often left audiences so thoroughly shaken that they were too stunned to clap.
As HBO began documenting the band's ascension to stardom for a short-lived series, it not only chronicled the D's live performances, but it offered intimate glimpses into JB and KG's creative process, their friendship and their escapades. When an evil beast commanded the pair to produce the best song in the world, HBO's cameras were rolling, catching every moment of the miraculous event on film. And though the resulting tune was not the greatest song in the world (it was just a tribute), the encounter suggested the boys might be capable of channeling something even mightier than their own hefty selves.
Scheduled to perform on Sunday, October 21, Showtime is 8 p.m.
Although its music has long been a staple for the Napster brigade, the duo only recently released its first album on Epic Records. Produced by the Dust Brothers, Tenacious D features cameos by Dave Grohl, Phish's Page McConnell, Warren Fitzgerald of the Vandals and Steve MacDonald from Red Kross. But this new fame hasn't changed Black or Gass: Though their HBO days are over, Black has remained humbly at work at his day job as a character actor, earning a cultish following for his spastically charming performances in High Fidelity and the lesser-seen but no less worthwhile Jesus' Son. Gass, meanwhile, has focused most of his attention on Tenacious D, an outfit that continues to live up to its self-proclaimed reputation as "the greatest band in the world."
New Times: I saw you play at CMJ last year, and you guys had one of the biggest buzzes of anyone who played.
Jack Black: Well, it wasn't all for us. At the Drive In was on that bill, too. But come to think of it, they broke up soon after that. Holy shit. I think we fucking broke them up. They saw what it was like to have to follow the D, and they immediately broke up.
Kyle Gass: We were the big buzz at SXSW last year, too. But after our show, some critic wrote this review where he said, "So, that was it?" I had some extra time the next day, so I called him. Set him straight. He was a prick. It's like, "Despite the fact that every person in the room seemed to be having a good time, the band was a bore."
JB: You can't sweat it, dude.
KG: I know. And it's like, well, there were so many artists that people loved, and the critics were always telling the public that it was wrong. That they actually sucked, despite their enjoyment. Look at Neil Diamond.
NT: What is with you guys and Neil Diamond? Half of your record was produced at his studio in Los Angeles. And you, Jack, were recently on VH1 talking about how much you admired him.
JB: Well, Tenacious D? That's what the D stands for. Well, not really. I think I'm the son he wishes he had. I guess his actual son is kind of a drag. But I'll tell you, if you intend to get to the bottom of my connection to Neil Diamond, you will get no further.
NT: Well, would you say the D is influenced by him?
KG: I think we are more influenced by the classics. And the Beatles. Who were, of course, contemporaries of Neil's.
JB: We might be more inclined to say that we were influenced by Barry Manilow.
KG: Who is a notorious pot smoker, and we can relate to that.
JB: Dude. Barry Manilow is not a fucking pot smoker. How can you even say this? Reveal your source!
KG: One of my friends used to be his driver. He said that every day when he'd drop Barry off or something, he'd check the ashtray and, sure enough, there would be fatties and all sorts of roaches and joints in there.
JB: Dude, that's because his passengers were blazing up. Not Manilow, dude. You fucking fuck.
KG: It makes sense if you think about it. Like, the "Copacabana"? Tell me that is not the work of a stoned man.
NT: What are you guys traveling in? Do you have a big tour bus?
JB: Dude, did you hear the insinuation in that? She totally wants to rock with us on the bus. (Approximates an imitation of New Times' voice.) "Do you have a big tour bus?" You are so transparent, lady!
KG: We do have a huge bus. And be sure you print that.
JB: We've requested the Don Henley model. It is state of the art. Which is good in case I have to take a donkey crap on the bus. Although I got some tips from Page from Phish. He said there are rules of the road, and rule number one is that you never, never crap on the bus. You have to make the driver pull over. It's a rule known to everyone who travels the road. I bet you Neil Young would not crap on his bus. But I have a feeling that Kyle is going to have a big problem with that one. I think he should have his own van, and he should have to drive it.
NT: What are the other rules?
JB: There will be no cigarette smoking, because I have to protect my instrument. But there will be weed smoking, because this is rock 'n' roll. And ladies. There will be plenty of fuckin' sexy ladies in the huzz-ouse.
NT: I think there's a perception out there that you guys are a joke band. Like Spinal Tap.
KG: Well, that really takes the pressure off having to play well.
JB: To me, that sounds like someone just needing to find a little compartment to stuff us in. Like, they always have to find a little box for everything when they don't understand it. They've got to give us a name and call us a joke band. Well, fuck them. I guess the joke is on them when they come to the show and find their fucking ass is blown out.
NT: Do you ever witness that transformation -- like, the crowd expects to laugh, but then they're just . . . rocking?
JB: All the time, my dear, all the time. It gets so intense sometimes, it actually scares me. I didn't used to understand that. I once read a quote from Eddie Vedder where he said that sometimes his voice gets so intense that he frightens himself. And at the time, I thought that was really fucking funny.
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KG: It's like, the final shots of the "Jeremy" video, where he looks like he's having a bowel movement.
JB: (singing the "Jeremy" chorus) Hoo-Hoo!
KG: That was the reason they stopped making videos, not because they were compromising their art or whatever. They just watched the last half of that and were like, "Dude, this has to stop."
JB: Yeah, but you know, it used to be that whenever someone got too serious, it would just amuse me. But now, with the D, I can understand it better. It's like we put the hurt on the audience. But we also put the hurt on ourselves.