Tenacious D w/Wynchester | 08.02.19, Stifel Theatre

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Tenacious D has never been a band to do anything by half-measures. It’s not surprising then that, touring on the heels of their 2018 movie and rock opera Post-Apocalypto, the band would go all-in, opening their show with the thing in its (almost) entirety.

I definitely have to give the band props for their stage design, which was perfectly set up for the rock opera concept. The stage was surrounded on three sides with a solid frame made to look like curtains, while the band performed in the center behind a screen. During the story portions of the movie, the film was projected to take up the entire stage. Whenever a song broke out, the outer frame still showed images from the film but the stage lights would make the band visible through the screen at the center of the stage. This setup was used to particularly great effect on the song titled (not making this up) “Fuck Yo-Yo Ma.” In the story (such as it is), Jables (Jack Black to you) has abandoned his sidekick KG (Kyle Gass) on Earth to go party with Richard Branson, Elon Musk, and Yo-Yo Ma in outer space. KG is left on the post-apocalyptic wasteland that is Earth expecting to die alone while JB laments leaving his best friend behind. To capture this tongue-in-cheek pathos, the left half of the stage left the screen clear so we could see Gass alone on stage with a microphone, while the right half was a spaceship with Black visible through its porthole some 20 feet up in the air.

The stagecraft was pretty neat and the band sounded good, but man, the Post-Apocalypto bit was kind of a lot. Even with truncating the 65-minute movie down to a roughly 40-minute live show, there was still a lot more movie than there was music. Post-Apocalypto works best with a shock factor: its crass humor and constant string of poorly drawn penises get a laugh when it’s a surprise, but if you’ve seen it before (especially, like this reviewer, if you just saw it three days before), seeing it in this live setting just makes you wish they’d just get on with it and play the songs, dammit. When they did that, the band sounded great—particularly on “Woman Time,” where Black busted out some “Immigrant Song”-worthy wails—but it was a bit of a slog to get there. (The pre-recorded dialogue portions were also played at ear-splitting volumes, which certainly didn’t help.)

The world finally saved, the self-proclaimed Greatest Band on Earth returned to more familiar territory, asking the crowd if they’d like to hear some greatest hits. “Maybe throw in some misses?” Black asked rhetorically. “Nah…we don’t make misses.” The crowd on the floor took to their feet as the band blasted through “Rize of the Fenix” and “Low Hangin’ Fruit” and stayed there until the end of the show. Though the rock opera portion was done, there was still a bit of theatricality to the band’s performance. Black played a prima donna role, fake berating the band’s roadies between several songs to build up to the band’s tribute to roadies, titled (you guessed it) “Roadie.” JB and KG had a fake band meeting to discuss the strange behavior of guitarist John Konesky, only for Konesky to morph into the Devil himself for a fun turn on lead vocals on “Beelzeboss (The Final Showdown).” KG even quit the band between songs to inspire a run through “Dude (I Totally Miss You)” that ended with a sweet hug between the two longtime friends.

The highlight of the night was the one-two punch that ended the main set. The D’s biggest hit, “Tribute,” opened with an extended acoustic intro, KG and JB facing each other as they gently strummed their guitars, the stage lights framing them in stark silhouette. As the song kicked into gear, the crowd got fired up, playing along to the JB-and-demon conversation of the lyrics with a fun bit of call-and-response. Unexpectedly breaking into the bridge of Van Halen’s “Panama,” JB “eased his seat back” as the band eased their way into “Double Team,” which eventually exploded into a monster jam session where everyone in the band got a chance to solo, from KG (who, it must be noted, is one helluva nimble guitar player) to the backing band to the roadies, sound guy, monitor tech, even lights (yes, the stage director got a “lights solo,” and honestly, it was pretty freakin’ cool)  before JB brought it all home with a random-as-hell run through the Doobie Brothers’ “What a Fool Believes” that did local boy Michael MacDonald proud. After a brief run from the stage, the band returned for “Fuck Her Gently,” JB announcing, “This one is for the ladies. But we’re not singing this one to the ladies—we’re signing it to the dudes on behest of the ladies.” The crowd, lady and dude alike, sang along at the top of their lungs, bringing the night’s nearly-two-hour set to a close.

“Just what you thought you’d see before a D show,” Mike Bray joked during his band Wynchester’s opening set, “some hillbilly shit.” At first blush, the only thing Wynchester and Tenacious D would appear to have in common is two dudes with acoustic guitars, but as their short, well-received opening set went on, the pair won the crowd over with their quick-witted crowd banter. Originals like “Spreading the Gospel of Good Times” took a satirical poke at bro-country, while able covers like Tenacious D fave Dio’s “Rainbow in the Dark” and the Commodores’ “Easy” (done as a country rave-up that found the middle ground between “easy like Sunday morning” and Johnny Cash’s “Sunday Morning Coming Down”) kept the crowd’s attention. Though just a duo—Bray sings in KG’s side project Kyle Gass Band, John Konesky is the D’s lead guitarist—Wynchester created an impressively full sound between Bray’s almost percussive rhythm guitar and 12-pack-of-Bud-Heavy vocals and Konesky’s nimble finger-picking leads and honeyed harmonies. | Jason Green

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