Big Black

The outsize personality of balladeer Jack Black means there's more of him to love

"Our next guests asked me to read this card," begins Saturday Night Live host Matthew Broderick, preemptively waiving claim to the statement that follows: "Have you ever had your ass waxed? It hurts. But then it feels good. Really good. Well that's a lot like our next act. Ladies and gentlemen, Tenacious D."

The D's 1998 SNL appearance was significant because, as those who witnessed his stealing High Fidelity from John Cusack must attest, it is Jack Black, not Chris Farley, who stands as the rightful heir to John Belushi's samurai sword. Farley was the lovable oaf, a mass of nervous insecurity, burbling, "Remember...uh, when you were in the Beatles?" Black's appeal, like Belushi's, is rooted in confidence. Barry, the High Fidelity record-store übersnob, flaunted an ego rivaled in size only by his potbelly.

Tenacious D is an acoustic endeavor that allows Black and partner Kyle Gass to further fill out the mighty ego that Barry Jive and the Uptown Five merely outlined. "I call 'em like I see 'em," Black coos, arching an eyebrow and surveying the SNL crowd, "and man, there's a lot of possible backstage Bettys in the audience tonight." His manner is predatory yet disarmingly silly--the secure fat guy, a rock 'n' roll Ron Jeremy. As the D glides into "Sex Supreme," an ode to podiatric pleasure and creaming one's jeans, you start to wonder, are those potential groupies laughing at him or do they want to get with him?

More fun than a good ass wax: Tenacious DPHOTO BY HEATHER MEIX
More fun than a good ass wax: Tenacious D
PHOTO BY HEATHER MEIX

Or rather, do they want to get with them? The D is ultimately a two-man proposition, Gass providing both the guitar behind Black's vocals and the trois in the proposed ménage. "It's KG with a feather, the French tickler/Look out, baby--he got the tools!/And then you feel something down by your feet/It's me--it's JB--I'm sucking on your toes," Black bellows. Simultaneously lampooning and reveling in the most libidinous rock cliché, the D carves its own post-Spin¨al Tap niche. Call it mock out with your cock out.

The D's first record, featuring Dave Grohl on drums and the Dust Brothers on knobs, promises to expand their simple live formula: two parts acoustic guitar and one part Black's vocals, which range from booming to conversational. The record's late-summer release date is too distant for this Saturday's appearance at First Avenue to be considered a support show. "We wanted to squeeze in some rock 'n' roll shows, and we wanted to play someplace we hadn't played," Black explains on the phone from the D's studio in Los Angeles. "Flights to Seattle were too expensive, so we thought we'd play Minneapolis."

But when the prospect of playing on the fabled Purple Rain stage hits him, Black slips seamlessly into a heartfelt impromptu tribute. "Dig if you will the picture," he snarls, "Of you and I engaged in a kiss." Then, suddenly, "What the hell happened to Soul Asylum? They were like, my favorite band. Then something...happened."

If this weekend's appearance lends any commercial support, it's likely to be for Saving Silverman, a film slated for February release featuring Black and Gass alongside Amanda Peet, Jason Biggs, and Steve Zahn. "We're going head to head with Hannibal," says Black, "and I'm sure we'll win." Perhaps the true measure of Black's fortitude is his ability to put the harrowing Pauly Shore vehicle Bio-Dome (Tenacious D's big screen debut!) behind him without flinching.

Perhaps Jack Black's main endeavor is to measure the difference between having no modesty and having no shame. When asked to expound on the greater significance of the D, their contribution to society and such, Black responds, "We figured out antigravity. And, have you heard of ginger? And we assassinated Bush in the future."

 
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