Concert review: Tenacious D at Express Live

Erica Thompson

No feat is too large for Tenacious D, the self-proclaimed greatest band in the world. The musicians can defeat a soul-eating demon with their rock, banish Satan to hell with a magical incantation and restore Earth following a nuclear holocaust — at least according to their music and visuals.

So, selling out Express Live (the line of people extended nearly a quarter of a mile to Huntington Park stadium) on a recent Saturday to support its first album in six years was easy for the comedy rock duo. Dressed down in T-shirts and wielding acoustic guitars, Jack Black and Kyle Gass captivated the audience with a humorous, often X-rated show divided into two sets: new material followed by greatest hits. 

The performance opened with the frenetic “Post-Apocalypto Theme” from Tenacious D’s 2018 album, Post-Apocalypto, a soundtrack for its YouTube animation series of the same name. Though the rockers didn’t exactly perform the rock opera “in its entirety” as claimed, they got close. They played songs in between snippets of video from the series, shown on a screen behind the stage. Their backing band included longtime members Scott Seiver (drums), as well as Columbus natives John Konesky (guitar) and John Spiker (bass).

Post-Apocalypto follows Black and Gass’s journey in the wake of devastation from a hydrogen bomb. With the help of a Schwarzenegger-like robot, they battle monsters, cave women, Donald Trump, Jr. and Black’s own son to save the world. Because it’s Tenacious D, the story features sex scenes, references and imagery (it was impossible to count the number of sex organs displayed throughout the entire concert).

While Post-Apocalypto’s songs are entertaining, it’s difficult to pinpoint an instant classic. Almost all are under two minutes (the entire album clocks in at about half an hour), and there are few standout musical and vocal moments, which Black and Gass are capable of delivering; though similarly absurd, The Pick of Destiny soundtrack had the epic, Meat Loaf- and Ronnie James Dio-assisted “Kickapoo,” gorgeous "Dude (I Totally Miss You)" and ferocious “The Metal.”

The most memorable songs during the first half were ballads “Robot” — Black offered a crowd-pleasing high note — and “Colors,” featuring a recorder solo by Gass. More intriguing were the rock opera’s references to the present-day, political climate. In the series, the Ku Klux Klan guards the White House, which is run by the tyrannical Trump Jr., and the cave women have come into power over men (“It was you that wreaked havoc and pain. … You’ve ruined this world,” they tell Tenacious D).

While the project doesn’t offer in-depth commentary, it is still the band’s attempt to respond to the state of the country. “We’re kind of similar to and share a disease with [President Donald Trump],” Black told Uproxx. “We know this con that he’s playing because we also have narcissism disorder. … I don’t see a lot of other bands or musicians really going at him the way that they should, so I’m like, ‘F*ck it, we’ll do it!’”

Tenacious D might best serve as escapism during trying times, and the greatest hits segment of the show was truly transcendent. Rize of the Fenix tracks held up, “Kickapoo” literally steamed up glasses and "Beelzeboss (The Final Showdown)" was a spirited “rock-xorcism” that “beat the devil in under four minutes,” according to Black. During “Kielbasa,” the crowd sang the first verse before Black got started.

The frenzy peaked with “Tribute,” which seemed just as exhilarating to sing live as it was over 15 years ago. The high that lasted following the encore was a reminder that there are still moments of levity to be had during dark times.

And in spite of its silliness, Tenacious D’s Post-Apocalypto does offer a comforting moment. Facing desolation — and moments before meeting a two-headed dog named Hope — Black reassures Gass, “We will survive.”