Rock on but lighten up: At Festival Supreme, ‘real bands’ with, yes, a sense of humor

Kyle Gass, left, and Jack Black of Tenacious D.

Kyle Gass, left, and Jack Black of Tenacious D.

(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

When Festival Supreme launched in 2013, music felt more like the setup than the payoff on a bill packed with guitar-strumming comedians such as Adam Sandler, Eric Idle and Garfunkel and Oates. Last year the same was mostly true of this annual event, organized by Jack Black and Kyle Gass of the cult-favorite mock-rock band Tenacious D.

Yet for the third Festival Supreme, set to take place Saturday at the Shrine Expo Hall, music and comedy seem on equal footing. Along with established actors and comics like Amy Poehler and Tig Notaro, the lineup features a wealth of groups — including Die Antwoord, the Darkness and Rocket From the Crypt — unlikely to be found onstage at the Laugh Factory.

“We definitely got more real bands this year,” Black said the other day, putting audible scare quotes around the word “real.” “These are like power players at other music festivals.”

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The scaled-up music slate — which also includes Big Freedia, Dan Deacon, Andrew W.K. and, of course, Tenacious D — is part of an effort in Festival Supreme’s third year “to reach a wider audience,” according to Lesley Olenik Galindo with the event’s promoter, Goldenvoice. (The Los Angeles-based firm behind Southern California’s massive Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, Goldenvoice knows about wide audiences.)

But as Black’s comment regarding “real” bands suggests, Festival Supreme is also making an implicit argument that the perceived line separating music and comedy is too rigid. It aims to show that a well-developed sense of humor needn’t come at the expense of music quality.

“That’s something we’ve always come up against: ‘Hey, man, how come you guys don’t put out, like, a serious album?’” Black said of Tenacious D, which started as the subject of a series of HBO shorts and later released its debut album (with perfectly pitched songs about sex and Satan) in 2001. “The answer is because I don’t want to. That doesn’t sound fun to me at all.”

Black recalled that when he and Gass formed the duo, the first thing they wrote together was a “straight, sincere song about a very painful breakup I’d gone through.


“And it was just awful,” he added, referring to the song, not the breakup. “We realized the thing that makes us viable is the combination” of comedy and music. “That’s the combustible element.”

Pop history is peppered with artists who’ve embraced a good joke, from the camp specialists of Queen to Randy Newman, who is almost certainly the sharpest social satirist to reach No. 2 on Billboard’s Hot 100 (in his case with his barbed late-'70s hit “Short People”).

More recently, though, pop seems to have cleaved into opposing factions, Black said. You’re either a Weird Al Yankovic or you’re Coldplay. With Festival Supreme, he and Gass are seeking acts willing (and able) to play both sides.

A mysterious South African duo composed of the visually striking rappers Ninja and Yolandi Visser, Die Antwoord records catchy club jams as part of an elaborate multimedia project about race and class. Andrew W.K., promised to perform a “very special solo show,” makes self-aware arena rock that provides true uplift. San Diego’s Rocket From the Crypt pairs wryly absurdist lyrics with a fierce garage-punk attack.

And then there’s the Darkness, the British glam-metal outfit that made a splash in 2003 with its willfully over-the-top “Permission to Land” album, then burned out before reuniting a few years ago. Its mission is to push the genre into a kind of sublime state free of the embarrassment that might restrain a Def Leppard or Quiet Riot.

Frontman Justin Hawkins said that determination has led to his being asked one question more than any other over the course of his career: “Are you for real?”

He hates it too. “It absolutely prevents people from enjoying themselves,” he said.

Hawkins even hates the question when it’s directed at others. Recently, he recalled with a laugh, he couldn’t resist “having a go at some people” making noise about Die Antwoord’s authenticity (or lack thereof) in an Internet forum.


“I’ve never done that before, but it must have resonated with some of my earlier experiences,” the singer said. “They were like, ‘Oh, these two are married and they have a kid — they can’t be for real.’ Who cares if it’s for real? Who cares if it’s method acting? Is the music exciting? That’s all that matters.”

Festival Supreme, Hawkins hopes, should prove an ideal setting for the Darkness, with an audience that knows parody is a form of devotion. Black is counting on the same understanding. For Tenacious D’s performance, he and Gass plan to set aside heavy metal for jazz, which Black called his “real passion.”

Was he joking? Sure, in part. But that doesn’t take away from Black’s impressive scat singing on a 2012 EP. Nor does it negate the fact that he may well have built an earnest appreciation of the form through his late father-in-law, the great jazz bassist Charlie Haden, who died last year.

For Festival Supreme, which will have four stages, Black’s original intent was to create “a proper jazz lounge where people could sit down and have some shrimp scampi and some white wine and just enjoy the jazz. But that’s not going to be the case,” he said. The fire marshal nixed the setup, according to Black, given the demand likely to be generated by “the sheer number of heavy hitters” on this year’s lineup.

“But don’t worry,” he added. “It’s still going to be plenty powerful.”


Festival Supreme


Where: Shrine Expo Hall, 665 W. Jefferson Blvd.

When: 2 p.m. Saturday

Cost: $75 to $250



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