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Tenacious D in the Place To Be, by Brian Farrelly
 Tenacious D
Kyle Gass and Jack Black of Tenacious D

To the uninitiated, I tell you this. Tenacious D are just about the rootenist, tootenist, acoustic-guitar-slinging comedy duo ever to walk upon God's green earth. Chances are you've never heard of them before. But their hilarious stage act has appeared on Mr. Show, the cinema classic Bio Dome (starring Pauly Shore and Stephen Baldwin), and two of their own HBO specials, featuring skits and performances of their "heavy acoustic" songs at an open-mic night in front of a deserted and apathetic coffee-house audience. Given that their current show-biz status is underground at best (slightly above that of Don Knotts on the comedy food chain), I assumed that the audience for their Irving Plaza show on August 30, 1999 would consist of me, along with about 40 other portly gentlemen and the women who love them, but much to my surprise, there was a conga line clear around the block waiting to get in. Thankfully, my weasel status as a "rock journalist" allowed me a quicker mode of egress on the comp ticket line, but once inside, I was further distressed to discover the floor and balcony areas packed to the gills with young, fresh-faced fellows and the trophy girlfriends who tolerate them.

My inner hipster winced at the thought that something I once felt a secret pride in knowing about and sharing with others was now public knowledge among dudes in designer tank-tops and multi-colored cell phones. Several beers later, however, I began to feel a certain camaraderie with my fellow concertgoers that can only come from enduring a tortuous half hour of Stevie Ray Vaughan concert footage on the stage's jumbo video screen. We were all impatient to see our premium-channel cable idols and thus it seemed an ill-advised move to put on the warm-up band they did, whose entirely forgettable set of "Friends"-style, Starbucks rock went over like Ice Cube opening up for a Ku Klux Klan rally. Thankfully, their set was kept mercifully short, I'm sure in no small part to the fact that people continually yelled, "We want the D!!" between their songs.

Growing up, I used to watch a children's show called The Magic Garden which, like Sid & Marty Krofft masterpieces such as Sigmund and the Sea Monsters and Land of the Lost, shared an affinity for horribly cheesy sets, embarrassing pastel outfits and a tenuous grasp of reality. The hosts were two hippie chicks who played bizarre folk songs on their acoustic guitars, communed with a "magic" oak tree which housed a talking squirrel and delivered wacky outfits to the girls so they could play dress-up. Every show they'd pay visit to the "chuckle patch," a bunch of plastic dandelions that would write jokes for the girls and then spaz out while laughing maniacally at their own punch lines. Needless to say, this show prepared me for my entire college career of marijuana and LSD intake. Looking back on it now, I'm not quite sure if those two women were really that psychotically shiny happy or just two pot smokin' honeys playing a big joke on all of our parents.

Tenacious D also skirt this fine line between winking mockery and deadpan earnestness. Their songs, detailing their delusional rise to power in the music industry and the trials and triumphs of being "The Greatest Band in the World," are filled with some of the funniest and most ridiculous lyrics this side of rapper Sir Mix-A-Lot's "Baby Got Back." But they belt it out with such bravado and heartfelt conviction that you sometimes forget it's all an act.

Mounting the stage to the thundering applause usually reserved for monster truck rallies or a Doors cover band, it was quite evident that "The D" had the crowd in the palm of their sweaty hands from the get go and they gave the crowd exactly what they wanted. That is, Woody Guthrie by way of Spinal Tap tunes about smokin' hash, rockin' the house and suckin' on the toes of "backstage Bettys." With the absurdity of comedian Andy Kaufman, the vocal harmonies of Seals & Crofts and some straight-up awesome guitar playing, their acoustic folk rocked harder than any rap/metal band on the airwaves and was funnier than most any line-up of shows on Comedy Central. In addition to their own tunes, they performed a show-stopping cover of the original Spiderman theme song during which a horrendously costumed Spiderman and something that resembled the tin man from The Wizard of Oz (dubbed "Y2K Man") chased each other around the stage and battled with aerosol cans of "silly string" in a fight for world domination.

The only criticism of the show I can muster is that their anti-acoustic songs somehow seemed a whole lot funnier on TV because they sang them with the demented fervor of performing "Live at Budokan," despite being in an empty café. Seeing them in a huge club packed tighter than a Times Square peep show during fleet week and with goons screaming out "We love the D!" every few minutes, the show kinda lost some of its initial charm.

I guess I'll just have to get used to it, since a forthcoming album and movie due out next year will no doubt make them bigger than Weird Al Yankovic. I'm sure the next live show they do will be even more crowded than this Irving Plaza gig. If there is any justice (or irony) in this cruel world, it won't be long before Tenacious D are packing arenas and stadiums with expensive pyrotechnic displays, elaborate stage shows and an entire chorus line of Luscious D Go-Go Dancers. I even foresee them shedding their acoustic guitars someday and going electric, staging a mock sell-out uproar a la Bob Dylan when he plugged in at the Newport Folk Festival. It's all part of their rock 'n' roll fantasy, so until then, try to catch them on tour or find a friend with HBO who can tape their shows for ya.

September 1999


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