Tenacious D—the greatest band on Earth by consensus of themselves—have done a hell of a lot with a very little. Two decades ago, Kyle Gass and Jack Black (a.k.a. KG and JB, respectively) took to music venues with the intent to deliver jokes within actual honest-to-Satan rock ballads, arming themselves with only their voices, a pair of acoustic guitars, their profane and revelatory songbook, and the ill-fitting t-shirts on their backs. “They tried to categorize us as ‘heavy metal folk,” Gass laments. “They tried to contain us, but we had to break free.”
That all began in 1994. The dynamic duo got their start in Tim Robbins’s troupe The Actors’ Gang, but as Tenacious D they didn’t tread the boards onstage so much as stalk, pound, dominate, and punish the floor beneath them with wicked confidence and uncontainable energy.
They quickly attracted high-profile fans in the local alt-comedy scene (including David Cross and Bob Odenkirk, who brought Black into early episodes of Mr. Show with Bob and David and co-created their HBO series Tenacious D: The Greatest Band on Earth), but it took years of people watching and waiting for an eighteen-inch Stonehenge-style punchline before it finally kicked in: these two are no joke, even as they deliver gags. They truly are the rock stars they say they are, with bottomless energy, devotion, and seriousness about their silliness.
“There was a time at the beginning when we were just children in the night, when every show we had felt like another fiery hoop,” says Black. “Another make-or-break. It’s either we do a good job tonight, or we go back to the drawing board. Excitement, tension, and fear mixed in with the craft.”
Gass, ever the calm eye of the D storm, translates his bandmate’s dramatic retelling into the simple life-lesson at the center: “Had we known back then things were gonna be OK, it might not have worked for us.”
Now, though, The D has outlasted the lifespans of many other contenders for “Greatest Band,” beating The Beatles, doing laps around Led Zeppelin. Their skits and studio sessions have launched enough karaoke standards and NSFW videos to rival any other contenders. But most recently, KG and JB have stepped up from the life of the party to the hosts. Now on its fourth year, Festival Supreme—their all-day bacchanal of music and comedy—goes down on October 29 at the University of Southern California’s Shrine Expo Hall & Grounds. They’ve curated a formidable line-up of like-minded musicians (Mac DeMarco, The Vandals), comedians (Patton Oswalt, Jenny Slate), and Venn-diagram-overlaps of the two worlds (Garfunkel and Oates, Flight of the Conchords, the immortal bard “Weird Al” Yankovic). “We’ve strived for diversity,” Black explains. “You don’t want it all to be straight-up comedy, because that can get exhausting. So we get legit bad-ass musicians up there to just blow your mind in another way.”
“You realize how many arch-nemeseses—how many arch-nemesi—we have out there, waiting to hear mumblings and crumblings to steal our rocket sauce?” — Jack Black
Though they’ve rocked out as The D at their own party before, this year they’re taking the stage to spin records as the enigmatic “Tenacious DJ.” What will that look like? “We don’t know! We’ve never done it before. It’s our debut gig,” says Gass. “It’s like Tenacious D, except for DJs,” Black kind of elaborates. “It will look like a giant envelope that’s being pushed. That’s what it [will] look like.”
As Festival Supreme draws near and The D prepare to reintroduce themselves behind the decks, the world awaits their next project—especially in the Netherlands and “parts of Germany,” where they claim they’re most famous right now. “We’re gods there!” Black exclaims. “People screaming as we got off the plane!” “D-maniacs,” Gass deadpans. But Jables and Rage are still pondering what conceptual greatness they’ll unleash next, and they remain secretive. “You realize how many arch-nemeseses—how many arch-nemesi—we have out there, waiting to hear mumblings and crumblings to steal our rocket sauce?” Black asks.
So stand by as The D prepares to pick their destiny, bringing fawning followers and comedy/music cohorts together in a pagan congregation on holy Shrine grounds, single-handedly keeping the damned soul of rock alive through their powerful partnership and the greatest songs in the world (or, at least, tributes thereto). FL