Tenacious D at Aragon Ballroom

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It was quiet on the Tenacious D front for a few years. Too quiet. Following the general indifference shown by most everyone towards The Pick of Destiny (both the movie and the soundtrack that was passed off as an album), it’s easy to see why Jack Black and Kyle Gass let things cool off a bit. And with Jack Black’s other career as, you know, a wildly successful movie star, I wondered how much time he actually had to dedicate to music. It honestly began to doubt if we’d ever see new Tenacious D material again… What I fool I was to question the fury of The D. Earlier this year, with very little fanfare and nary a week’s heads up, they released their third album: Rize of the Fenix. They did nothing for ages then came out of nowhere with an album featuring a sickly huge, purple-veined penis-bird on the front — the perfect level of sexual innuendo, shock value, and machismo hubris that they’re known for. The album was a huge improvement over P.O.D., yet fell quite short of the rarified air of their debut album (although not much stacks up to this all-time classic album of any genre). But there was great promise in those songs; all I needed was to hear them live to build that sentimental connection.

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Luckily, living in Chicago means every album support tour comes through. With another stroke of luck. Jam Productions picked up the Tenacious D tour and put them in the Aragon Ballroom — the finest large music venue in the city. Well, it’s usually the best, but on this disgustingly hot July night, the heat inside the building was outrageous. Aragon is notorious for a lack of airflow and this had the muggiest conditions I’ve ever experienced there. The heat was obvious by the end of the first song when Jack Black’s t-shirt was already completely soaked with sweat. No brain aneurysms necessary for this t-shirt decision — it didn’t matter which one he chose: it was destined to be drenched.

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The show started off with a run of five songs from the new album. “Rize of the Fenix” was the no-brainer opener, but it was “Low Hanging Fruit” and “The Roadie” that really stood out. Songs often take on a whole new life in the live setting (thanks Captain Obvious), but these absolutely rocked. Upon first listen, these tunes seemed like a couple that would boom in person and they did indeed, they leaped like frogs in a dynamite pond. The presence of the electric guitar was strong, and in combination with JB and KG’s acoustics, created a multi-tiered, wall of guitar sound. But not in the distorted, classic rock sense: it was a that rock-upon-metal energy, you know, rawk. They fired off this first cluster of songs without much goofing around, which created a nice clearing for some foolery. The next ‘song,’ which JB said would be on the next album in 2015 (if you can’t make fun of yourself…) was their take on jazz, this weirdly spacey, silly jam that JB said would comprise the entire album. One song, one album, “You gotta grow with The D,” he explained in his one-of-a-kind, over the top cocky tone.

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A Tenacious D show is so much more than what songs they play. If you love the skits, the hijinks that surround the songs on the albums, you would love their live show. The whole thing is chock full of this weird banter, all with Jack Black acting totally in the JB character. He has this way of being a complete dick, especially to KG, but being so tongue-in-cheek about it that it’s endearing. He had one of his roadies come out and wipe the sweat off his face and pour water in his mouth, like some type of rock n roll servant, then he grabbed the towel and threw it in KG’s face. Between later songs he grabbed a bottle of water and tossed it into the crowd, saying, “Now don’t bogart the water. One lick and pass it.” At one point, KG even dropped an “I believe in god” quip directly from the debut album. If you listen closely, they’re awesome at incorporating the details that anyone who knows all the words would really appreciate and geek out over.

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The unexpected oldie “Kielbasa Sausage” was a nice touch right before the a theatric montage where they segued through “Kyle Quit The Band >┬áDude (I Totally Miss You) > Friendship” while adding the usual banter and clever acting. It was awesome how they stitched these songs that spanned two albums into a fresh segment that completely made sense. Black and Gass have such amazing chemistry on stage it would make Walter White jealous. They ended this stretch with a “just the tip” handshake goof that was hilarious; they’re so dirty yet so innocent at the same time. No one does it like they do. JB and KG left the stage for a moment, to let the electric guitarist, a dark prince of the underworld possessed by Satan, unleash a solo of raw metal licks. JB explained that he “had the number of the beast, 666, tramp stamped above his anus, discovered at the age of six” and was the greatest guitarist on Earth. Despite all the goofiness, heavy metal is the heart, soul, spinal column, and loose viscera of The D.

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Then a ridiculous trio of songs that brought the set down. Out of left field they broke out a cover of The Who’s “Tommy the Pinball Wizard” with JB hitting those Roger Daltrey high notes like a bawse. But, thankfully, they saved my two favorite songs from their debut album for last. “Tribute” and “Double Team” slapped a gigantic grin on my face and I sung every word to both songs like a total nerd. I’ve listened to that album on nearly every road trip for the last eight years, so these songs have been permanently etched into my memory. This was really special for me; one of those really sentimental live music moments that makes me smile just thinking about it. As “Double Team” wound arrived at its climax, the gigantic penis-bird on stage (yeah, they re-created the album art) leaned forward and ejaculated a cloud of confetti. Cum-fetti, if you will. It was perfect, bringing the whole artistic vision full circle in an oddly hilarious way.

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Since they shot their wad on the main set, the encore was a bit more reserved. The lullaby from P.O.D. called “Baby” was the first song and JB totally bunged up the lyrics so had to start the song over. Even immortals make mistakes. They busted out another surprise with a cover/rendition of the Star Trek theme (“not that Next Generation shit”). This was cool, but seeing as I’m not a Trekkie, it missed the mark a bit. But they ended the night with the classic, almost cult status tune “Fuck Her Gently.” It made me so happy that they played a solid group of songs from the first album. In fact, they did a great job of playing material from all three albums, weaving it into a stage presence & performance that’s second to none in the world of live music. The way they’ve combined music & comedy is basically untouchable — they’re in a league of their own. The albums stand on their own merit, but the live performance weaves it all together and gives you something of a stand-up comedy feel. Their releases are rare, their live shows are even more rare, and each time I get to see Tenacious D live is a fantastic & special occasion. I would say I could see this show every month just because I love the music so much, but that would undoubtedly dampen the impact of the live experience. I feel extremely lucky to have seen this show, and part of me is excited that I likely won’t see them for another six years. Or at the very least until they drop that all-jazz album in 2015.

One set: Rise of the Fenix, Low Hanging Fruit, Senorita, Deth Starr, The Roadie, jazz jam, Kielbasa Sausage, Kickapoo, Kyle Quit The Band > , metal jam, Tommy the Pinball Wizard (The Who cover), Tribute, Double Team

Encore: Baby, Star Trek theme, Fuck Her Gently

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Jeremy Frazier is the editor-in-chief of Soundfuse.