Amazing how some things work so well in small doses and then become cumbersome and exasperating when they’re around too long. Tenacious D, the humorous musical duo of Kyle Gass and Jack Black, had a great short run on HBO and was known for great short performances at L.A. venues such as Largo before Black’s acting career took flight. The duo hits the Wiltern stage, though, for two hours — just a month after the release of their debut disc on Epic — and after an uproarious first half, the act peters out, descending from the fine concept of “folk metal” kings into a sewer of half-finished songs, juvenile skits and sex jokes.
The duo has so many things working for them: Black’s acting fame (“High Fidelity,” “Shallow Hal”) has expanded their already substantial fan base; Gass has used the spare time to further develop formidable guitar skills; and, having spent several years honing the act, they have a singular, hard rock-mocking purpose that’s well conceived and, at times, borders on genius. The act could be one man’s interpretation of Spinal Tap going unplugged; for another it’s the lesser-known members of Black Sabbath reuniting and saving costs by leaving the props and Marshall stacks at home — or in the pawn shop. From their two guitars emanate pounding metal chords and only the artiest of riffs — guitar licks lifted from the rubble of Rush, ELP, Dio, etc.
Black and Gass enter the stage in cleric’s robes and immediately discard them in favor of a metal fan’s wardrobe of T-shirts, jeans and shorts. They have done away with a key component of their earlier shows — the self-congratulatory spiels about their greatness, rants that worked because they so wonderfully mocked that very special sort of Sunset Strip fame that existed in the hair band ’80s. Similarly, Satan worshipping, still a key component in the album’s artwork, has taken a back seat and instead the two take the role of established heroes — an act that assumes its audience is there to worship them.
They start, with only acoustic guitars as usual, and turn to Queen’s “Flash’s Theme” before getting into their own material about traditional hard-rock themes (having a good time, “the road,” cosmic shame) and rituals (sex with groupies often discussed graphically, and sometimes with metaphors). They bring out their roadie Peter Lee Parker for a “3 D” that’s an absolute delight in humor and harmony.
And at about the 45-minute mark it falls apart. Incomplete songs go in bizarre directions, commenting on Jews in the audience and anal sex; Sasquatch lumbers across the stage as they sing about the missing link and before long he’s raping and defecating on Osama bin Laden, who earlier had shot Spider-Man during an equally misguided skit.
A film that displays the period between their onstage breakup and reunion finds Black hustling tricks on an L.A. street — and concludes with him performing oral sex on Gass. Like the Sasquatch-bin Laden interlude, it works only if you find voluminous ejaculation humorous; it’s such a desensitizer, though, that one of their funniest pieces on the album, “Fuck Her Gently,” loses its own peculiar, base touch.
Hilarious opening act the Naked Trucker and T-Bone, another original music-comedy act with its roots in the Fairfax Avenue club Largo, delivered an uproarious half-hour, touching on everything American. “Hillbilly hip-hop will never die,” the Trucker shouts as he launches into a rap medley dominated by Snoop Dogg’s “Gin and Juice” that concludes with Kansas’ “Carry on My Wayward Son” and, amazingly, actually makes sense lyrically and musically. Like Tenacious D, the act overflows with inside jokes about Hollywood, heavy metal, country music and all the trimmings.
The Trucker’s act will be even harder to package than the D — his songs are quite lengthy and he appears only with a guitar and cowboy hat — but it has more universality. The D, however, appeals to a very distinct male audience in their 20s and 30s, the bullied boys who found refuge in the likes of Ronnie James Dio, Slayer, Iron Maiden and their ilk and now can laugh at those naive times.
Wiltern show was one of Tenacious D’s last before heading out with Weezer and Jimmy Eat World for 13 dates. That triple bill comes to Long Beach Arena on Nov. 23, and in that setting, a shorter set may be their saving grace.