“I feel a little bit guilty, because it’s a little too much fun,” Jack Black said backstage Monday night at the Wiltern Theatre before the benefit he organized for victims of last month’s tsunami in South Asia.
Despite the gravity of the cause, not far from anyone’s mind backstage, the melding of musical and comedic talent made it impossible not to have fun. The lineup included Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl, Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme, Beck, Pearl Jam singer Eddie Vedder and Black’s own Tenacious D, on the one hand, to superstar comedians Chris Rock, Will Ferrell and, well, Tenacious D on the other.
The tone for the night was established during a hilarious opening bit from Ferrell. After promising, “You’re gonna see actual artists performing live music, acoustic live music, not Ashlee Simpson bullshit,” Ferrell sat down at a keyboard to perform a beautifully awful lip-synching job to Coldplay’s “Clocks,” during which he feigned a cell phone call and taking a nap, and actually ate part of a sandwich while the song kept playing. Nevertheless, this impressed Rock, who quipped backstage, “It was better than Coldplay.”
Maybe not, but the night offered no shortage of musical gems, starting with a rare acoustic set by Homme, who wrapped up his fifteen minutes with a duet with Grohl.
Vedder followed with a terrific five-song set that mixed Pearl Jam’s “I Am Mine” with covers of J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers’ “Last Kiss,” Cat Stevens’ “Trouble,” the Who’s “The Seeker” and the Beatles’ “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away,” on which he was joined by Tenacious D’s Kyle Gass.
Rock, who received a thunderous ovation, came onstage to riff for a few moments — on everything from hosting the upcoming Oscars to the recent Pistons-Pacers basketbrawl — and to introduce Grohl.
The Foo Fighters vocalist debuted a haunting new track, tentatively titled “Razor,” which he had just written that morning. After closing the song with a lengthy guitar solo, Grohl broke into a huge grin and said, “I’m really happy to be here, really glad everyone showed up, really glad I had to go on after Eddie Vedder.”
But Grohl proved up to the test, lending the rest of his set (or what backstage he called a “Live Aid timeslot”) to familiar Foo hits such as “Everlong,” “Tired of You” and “Times Like These.”
Tenacious D introduced Beck, hailing him as (to paraphrase here) music’s Chosen One. Clad in a black sweatshirt and black pants, the singer-songwriter responded by saying, “I’ve definitely never been introduced like that. That was kind of daunting.”
He demonstrated his talents, however, with the gorgeous “Guess I’m Doing Fine” and a lovely rendition of “Everybody’s Gotta Learn Sometime,” his contribution to the Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind soundtrack. He also attempted to play “Lost Cause” — while Will Ferrell, dressed in a red leotard, performed an interpretive dance to the normally heartbreaking song. Beck broke out laughing.
The duo of Black and Gass were in typical Tenacious D mode, blending humor and music into the outrageousness that characterizes songs like “Fuck Her Gently,” “Tribute” and “Double Team.” The two also got the crowd warmed up for the evening’s all-star finale with their own medleys of the Beatles and the Who.
As the curtain rose a little after eleven to reveal Grohl on drums, Homme on bass, Vedder on guitar (Beck joined them one song into the medley), the supergroup rocked the Chambers Brothers’ “Time Has Come Today,” as well as Led Zeppelin’s “Good Times, Bad Times” and the Byrds’ “So You Wanna Be a Rock & Roll Star.”
Ferrell, who started the night off, closed it out, clanging the last notes on a cowbell (an homage to his famous Saturday Night Live skit about the making of Blue Oyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear the Reaper) as everyone walked offstage, the night having proved Grohl’s pre-show words prophetic. “I think as much as tonight is a worthy cause,” he said, “more so I think it’s gonna be kick-ass fun.”