Tenacious D; Poliça – review

Brixton Academy; Camp Basement, London

Two men in hooded cloaks, their armed crossed like monks, walk on to a huge, spotlit stage. The capes are removed by a female roadie, revealing T-shirts pulled tightly across ample stomachs. Then they start singing about how their 2006 film "was a bomb", how critics had said that "the D was done". As they do, a 15ft inflatable blows up behind them; it has the face of a phoenix, which is oddly purple and veiny. It's unmistakably moulded – let's use Tenacious D lingo here – in the shape of a cock and balls. "We'll fucking rise again," sings Jack Black, who will turn 43 this summer.

Tenacious D – the comedy-rock side project of the Hollywood actor, alongside his shiny-pated sidekick, Kyle Gass – are on the comeback trail. Their 2006 rockumentary, The Pick of Destiny, flopped spectacularly at the box office, taking half of the money that it cost to make. Black's movie career has also taken a turn, now being dominated by appearances in kids' films (Kung Fu Panda, The Muppets) and video-game voiceovers. Nevertheless, Rize of the Fenix, Tenacious D's third album in 11 years, recently entered the UK chart at number 2.

Tonight's crowd holler every word to every song. They even scream when Black opens his bottle of Evian. A mixture of lager-swilling youngsters and grinning grown-ups, this is a crowd embracing faux-rebellion, 21st-century style.

Why is this still happening? It's nearly 30 years since This Is Spinal Tap sent up the world of riff-tastic rock cliche, and 20 since Bill and Ted and Wayne's World revealed the appeal of air-guitaring duos – all of them brilliantly. Perhaps the 00s' fad for musical guilty pleasures has helped, as has the success of 80s jukebox musical Rock of Ages.

Black and Gass's presentation as two ordinary blokes also has a certain charm, and the duo deserve chops for acknowledging their failures. Tonight, however, they do so with limited LOLs.

Being not impartial to humour of a childish or lavatorial nature, I laugh three times in Tenacious D's 100-minute set: first, when a roadie hangs a toy saxophone around Black's neck; second, when Black parps out Sax-A-Boom's silly solo. (I'll leave my third laugh for later.) Other hilarious tics get unhilarious quickly, such as Black's turned-up-to-11 gurning and tongue-waggling, or his and Gass's fondness for swearwords in song.

And what songs they are. Señorita is about a man protecting a Spanish lady's honour; naturally, it features musty flamenco flavours. Low Hangin' Fruit is about desiring girls that aren't particularly attractive, while Deth Starr – more misspelling, haha! – is a homage to Star Wars that includes a line about "virtual boning on a plane". This is music to accompany the stealing of traffic cones.

Still, Black and Gass are competent enough on their electro-acoustic guitars; two younger session players are allowed electric instruments proper, and the drummer is decent, although he isn't Dave Grohl, who actually plays on the album. They're also entertaining together playing the Who's Pinball Wizard. Nevertheless, I don't receive the "multiple eargasms" Black promises towards the end of the gig. Although what happens soon after does inspire my last laugh: the inflatable phoenix-penis ejaculating ticker-tape all over the Academy. It's a decent money-shot, certainly. It's just a shame about the foreplay.

From the ridiculous to the sublime. Poliça are another band led by a commanding frontperson, although Channy Leaneagh is as different a performer as you could get from Jack Black. Tiny, wiry and urchin-cropped, she has an ethereal voice from the Cocteau Twins/Portishead singing school, and her group has been getting stacks of Radio 1 and 6Music airplay. Coming highly recommended by Bon Iver and Jay-Z, Poliça have also sold out both their debut London shows.

The Minneapolis four-piece sound magical tonight, playing tracks from their recently released debut album, Give You the Ghost. They make a very modern kind of electronic pop: imagine the xx's ghostly indie given a shot of distortion-heavy, beat-laden R&B. The underground venue also matches their subterranean sounds perfectly. Heavy reverb and echo give songs such as I See My Mother extra atmosphere, and make Wandering Star's lyrics about lonely beds and sweet whispers compelling. Better still, the band's two brilliant live drummers, Ben Ivascu and Drew Christopherson, ensure these sentiments never sound fey.

Listen up, Tenacious D: here's what whacking your skins really means. And here's what I call multiple eargasms, all right.


Jude Rogers

The GuardianTramp

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