The bulging eyes of rock-stardom absurdity: An evening with Tenacious D


About 15 minutes into taking a seat at center stage of the Castro Theatre last night before an enthusiastic and fairly inebriated crowd, Jack Black turned to the audience and sheepishly confessed, “I’m getting sleepy.” To which, his cohort Kyle Gass added, “Is any of this even interesting?’

It was an honest, and funny, way to acknowledge a slow-out-of-the-gate interview moment for Tenacious D — comedic duo Black and Gass as the greatest acoustic heavy metal band in the world — who would probably have felt more in their element battling Satan in an epic guitar showdown than awkwardly sitting in tall chairs answering questions with a moderator.

And after all, expectations in the room were considerable. For the high-profile opening night of SF SketchFest on Jan. 23, the devoted audience in attendance had waited outside nearly two hours — in a quarter mile line that rambled throughout the neighbor — in an effort to see the duo take the Castro stage to be honored for their hyper brand of rock-stardom absurdity and Spinal Tap genius. But after a big-screen montage of the duo’s funniest clips got the event rolling, the D sitting down to chat with moderator and fellow comedian Paul F. Tompkins took a moment to get momentum.

Although early musings on how the band got their start via Mr. Show and a short-lived HBO series lumbered along, the interview got interesting as the band deviated from explaining their origins and just started telling funny tour stories, such the D’s disastrous opening slot for TOOL (“The boos had extra strength, cause you know…that band’s music plumbs the depths of man’s soul”), an equally terrible promotional show for Miller Genuine Draft in Las Vegas (“It was unanimous, all these people from the around the country hated us”) and a concert that had to be stopped at the House of Blues because someone had been stabbed (“The Rolling Stones did a whole movie on their stabbing”).

The session of crowd questions got nutty quickly, ranging from the duo being asked to name their favorite Muppet (Animal), to what it would take to get another Tenacious D film made (“If everyone here could just donate $500,000”), as well as fanatical inquiries into the band’s song catalogue (“Alaskan Fan Club here, let’s talk about ‘Jesus Ranch’”).

All in all, the “seated” portion of the show actually proved pretty good, and the stilted vibe that surfaced early on had quickly given way to some genuinely funny off-the-cuff moments, like when a meowing sound filtered through the crowd and Black pondered its source (“I’m like a sommelier of bad trips”).

To the great joy of the crowd, the interview session soon transitioned to the band pulling on their acoustic guitars and charging into a riotous 15-song set ranging from the band’s self-titled debut album (“Tribute,” “Friendship,” and “Kyle Quit the Band”) to Pick of Destiny (“Kickapoo”) and the more recent Rize of the Fenix (“Low Hanging Fruit” and Roadie”).  Finally in their element, the D just started killing place as Jack Black went full throttle — all bulging eyes and rubber expressions — and Gass strummed along with mostly deadpan stage presence to favorites like “Classico” and “Double Team,” as well as covers of Van Halen’s “Panama” and Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs.” By the time the band reached “Fuck Her Gently” the crowd left their theater seats and just flooded to the front of the stage to sing along, “And then I'll fucking fuck you discreetly/And then I'll fucking bone you completely.”

What else can you say? It’s the Motherfuckin’ D, and long lines and tall chairs were a small price for such a big showcase. If opening night was any indication, it’s gonna be one hell of Sketchfest this year.