Dallas-Based Tenacious D Tribute Band Tenacious NR/CD’s Nick Russo Shares The Story Behind Jack Black & Kyle Gass Showing Up To His Band’s Gig.
All photos by Jackie Brown.
On Saturday night, Jack Black and Kyle Gass’ comedy rock duo Tenacious D performed a sold-out show at the 4,800-capacity The Bomb Factory in Dallas. Theirs was, by all accounts, a well-received performance.
But earlier in the day and a few Deep Ellum blocks away at the punk rock club Three Links, the tandem did something even cooler: They showed up onstage to crash a set from their Dallas-based (and likely only) tribute band, Tenacious NR/CD, which had booked a pre-show performance to celebrate their heroes’ set later in the night, specifically in the hope — however slight — that something along these lines might happen.
When it did, the moment went instantly viral with photos and videos of it instantly flooding social media — and not just among the local Dallas music scene, which was thrilled to see some of its own achieve a pie-in-the-sky dream, but even nationally, with a photo of Tenacious D joining Tenacious NR/CD on stage reaching the front page of Reddit.
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HOLY SHIT! Before playing @thebombfactorydallas tonight, the REAL @tenaciousd (@jackblack and @theactualkylegass) just showed up to @threelinksdeepellum’s pre-party and joined their Dallas (only?) tribute band @nrcdasthed (@nrusso14 and Casey Dennington) on stage! SO COOL! 🎥: @thegaver. #tenaciousd #thisisjustatribute
In the wake of this magical moment, we called up Tenacious NR/CD member Nick Russo — North Texas music fans might better recognize him as the drummer for the ear-splitting rock band Duell — and asked him to break down for us the moment from all angles.
Our perhaps too-in-depth discussion about what Russo has called the greatest moment of his life to date follows.
So, first of all, how are you doing?
Well, I’m well-rested now. I didn’t go to sleep until about 5 o’clock in the morning because I was just too damn excited.
Yeah, I thought I saw you say online it was the best day of your life?
Uh-huh. Yeah. Absolutely.
Before we get into why, let’s try to set the table a little bit as to what led to what happened on Saturday. How long has NR/CD been around?
We’ve been playing together for a few years now, and the very first show we ever did was at Three Links — I want to say four years ago in August.
Was that something you were working on? Or was it for, like, one of those, all-cover shows or something?
The band The House Harkonnen, they would usually do a Weezer set every year on my birthday, which I share with [HK member] Alex Johnson. And so I kind of joked with him for years, like, “Hey, we should start a Tenacious D band and do it for the night you guys do Weezer.” So that was the first year that we did it — the first year that we finally, you know, put any effort into it. I had been trying to find somebody to play the part of [Kyle Gass], and I had asked Alex to do it, and he was like, “Well, I’ll do it if you want me to, but you should ask [Duell singer] Belvedere [Lee]. So asked Belvedere, and he was like, “Well, I mean, I could do it, but you should ask Casey [Dennington] to do it. And Casey’s who I play with now.
I know you play in Duell. Does Casey play in any bands?
Yeah. So, Casey: He and I went to junior high and high school together, so I’ve known him for over 20 years. And he and Alex and I, we all went to high school together. Casey used to have a band called Klopek. They haven’t been playing for a while now — they still get together to jam, but they haven’t played a show in a while.
So, one of the main reactions I’ve seen in the wake of Saturday is just like, “Wow, there’s a Tenacious D cover band?” So, like, are you just a huge fan? How did the idea come to be?
Yeah. The very first time I heard about Tenacious D was like in 2000, 2001. This was around the time when when you still had to go steal music on the internet. And so I would download all these songs and there would be speaking parts. And I was just like, “Where the hell is this coming from?” Well, it was from the HBO show. So then I just dug deeper down the rabbit hole and consume all this content and stuff online for this HBO show and all these songs that they had written and recorded. I was working at Best Buy at the time, and I would see people come through and buy the CD all the time that had, like, this demon on the front and these two fat guys with their shirts off, and I was like, “Who the hell is this?” Then I found out, and I was like, “Oh, this is for me.” Now, I’ve played guitar for, like, I don’t know, 28 years now, and if anybody ever asks me to play a song or sing a song and play along to it, I can’t sing anything or play anything but Tenacious D! [Laughs.]
So this was like a dream scenario that kind of played out on Saturday, then. How did it come to be? Like, obviously they got booked to play The Bomb Factory. Did you just see that and say, “Man, this is my shot to maybe like try to get on their radar!” or something like that? Was there any reason to believe that they were aware of you guys beforehand?
So, funny story: About a month and a half ago, one of my best friends — and someone who was there at Three Links and then went to the show with us later that night — he was in L.A. playing poker at some casino or something, and he’s in the middle of a hand and he had an empty seat next to him, and who sits next to him but Kyle Gass. So Kyle sits down next to him, and my friend kind of freaked out for a second and folded his hand, and then they play a few more hands together, and then they take a break and he talked to Kyle for a minute, and he happened to mention our band. He told me he said to Kyle, “You know, I have a couple friends over in Dallas that have a Tenacious D tribute band,” and I guess Kyle just said, “Oh, cool, we’re going to be there in a few weeks — that’s awesome.” But that was that.
That was that — but then you kind of pushed the issue, right? Like, when you found out that they were playing, you started off on the hunt to throw a pre-show.
Yeah. Whenever the tickets went on sale, pretty much that day, I was just like, “Alright, they’re coming to town, and I know too many damn people around this area in music to not have a chance to meet them.” So, I didn’t necessarily put any immediate feelers out at the time, but I went to Red Rocks and saw them play, and I’d taken some pictures of them and tagged the backing band members in those pictures — and they all responded, thanking me for the pics through Instagram. And so I just kind of started casually messaging with their bass player John Spiker back and forth, on and off throughout their tour. And I was just like, man, if I could book a show at Three Links the day of their show, there’s a chance that they would come over — or at least some form of the group would come over and hang out for a little bit.
So then you booked the show and then you’re just like, “Hey, man, this is happening! You should come by!”
Yeah. So about two or three weeks ago, I messaged John and said I ended up booking a show at Three Links, even though it hadn’t actually been booked yet — I just told him that we booked it. I was like, “Hey, we have this show before your show on Saturday. We’re going to do it earlier in the day, and it’d be cool if you guys had a chance to come and hang out for a little bit.” And he’s like, “Man, that sounds great. Just message me whenever it gets a little bit closer and we’ll see what we do.” So then, on Wednesday, I sent my message and the little flyer I’d made and everything and was like, “Hey, we’re still doing this!” And he’s like, “Awesome! Well, some form of the band — some sort of group — will come over and check you guys out before our show.” And I was like, “OK, cool!” And the way he was wording it was like, y’know, they might be there, they might not. So I really wasn’t actually expecting them to come over.
You were hopeful, but not putting your eggs all in that basket.
Let’s talk about the day of the show. What time did your set start? How was the show going from the start? And when did everything happen?
So, we started at 5, and there was probably about 30 or 40 people in the room — a bunch of my friends that were going to the show basically came over to hand out beforehand. We had gotten about seven or eight songs into the set, and where we were at in the set, there are three songs that we play that are from their most recent album that came out last October. So, we had played two of those songs already, and the third one I’m kind of weak on — I always screw up the lyrics, and I was like, “If they’re nearby and they walk in and I screw this up, I’m going to look like an idiot.” So we were wrapping up the second of those three songs, and I see John walking through the crowd and I was like, “OK, I’m going to skip to this song — because, if they actually walk in, this other song is the one that I want to sing with them.” It’s called “39” and it’s kind of a play on a Bruce Springsteen or Neil Diamond kind of vibe — a song where the lyrics are sang in a real deep growling voice, I guess kind of like Springsteen would sing. I really enjoy that song a lot — it’s really funny — and I just felt like, “If they’re gonna walk in here, this is the song that I want to be playing.”
So you turn to Casey and you say, “Hey, let’s skip ahead to ’39.'”
Yeah. I looked over and I said, “They’re here. We’re going to skip these next two songs.” I skipped “Tribute.” I didn’t want to sing “Tribute.”
Would that have been too obvious?
OK, so: You’ve see the bass player. At one point do you see Jack and Kyle?
So, we’re wrapping up that second song, and I just saw an influx of people with “Crew” shirts on. And then there was a couple of bodyguards that I saw walk in. And then I saw two golf carts speed up and then like come to a screeching halt in front of the garage door of Three Links, and then I saw them walk in. So we just started playing the song — and then, right as we started, they started walking in and they just got right up on stage.
Were you a little thrown in that moment?
Absolutely. So, my idea was like, “If I stop the song, then they’re probably not gonna want to do another song. So I’m just gonna keep going, and I’ll do my best to stick to it and try to keep it together.”
How was the crowd reacting in that moment?
As soon as they pulled up, I saw everyone’s cell phones pop out, and everyone just starts filming immediately. As soon as I saw that happen, I was like, OK, it’s obvious that they’re here — because a typical Tenacious D fan doesn’t know who their bass player is, who their drummer is. But I had seen those guys walk in, and I was like, “Oh, shit, they’re here!” And then everyone’s phones came out and I was like, “OK, yeah. It’s obvious that those guys are about to come too.” So they walk through the crowd, they jump on stage and I kind of put my arm around Jack and try to get him to sing the lyrics. But I’ve watched these videos [of our set from Saturday] a few times now, and I can tell that I don’t think he remembers the words — because at one point he leans over to Kyle and he whispers something in his ear, and I think he’s telling him he can’t remember the words — so he’s just trying to do all these hand gestures and stuff. I think he just couldn’t remember the lyrics. But there was this one part of the song where I knew that he would be able to jump in because there’s this real high, typical Jack Black thing that he does. So I kind of tapped him on the shoulder and pulled him in to the mic and had him sing that part. And he remembered the rest of it after.
In the moment, looking at these videos, you look pretty calm and cool and collected externally. But you’re telling me that’s not like what’s going on inside your head?
Not in any way! I was so close to just breaking out into tears and falling to the ground. My legs were shaking like crazy. My knees were shaking. I could barely stand, but I did everything that I could to keep it together and keep the song going.
Then you wrap up the song, and you get to kind of embrace Jack Black for a moment. Did he say anything to you?
Yeah. He just said, “Hey, are you guys coming to the show tonight?” I said, yeah, and he’s just like, “Cool. We’ll see you there.” And then he turned to Casey and shook his hand, and I said thanks to Kyle next. And then they were gone as quick as they were there.
Did your set continue to beyond that point?
Yeah. We had three more songs in the set. I remember Kyle looked down at our set list and the songs we’d already played as they were leaving and he said, “Man, you guys put ‘Fuck Her Gently’ in the middle of the set? That’s pretty bold.”
Were you able to keep composure for the rest of the set?
Yeah. Yeah, I was.
I know a bunch of people were taking photos and videos in the moment. It went pretty, like, local scene viral pretty fast. I imagine your phone just like exploded.
Oh, absolutely. Yeah. It was insane. Just message after message, comments and tags. It was ridiculous.
Have you ever experienced anything before like that?
Not really. No. I mean, there’s there’s times when Duell will play a big show or whatever with like 150 or 200 people or whatever. But never anything like that.
So you did go to the Tenacious D show later, right? How was it?
Yes, it was great. You know, I was riding on adrenaline for so long that I was sick of standing and just wanted to kind of relax. But as soon as the show started, everything started to ease up a little bit. I had a couple of beers and loosened up a little bit, and I was OK. But after you’ve had an experience like that, you’re so excited and you really can’t stand still. And I was still kind of shaking from the experience. The show was great, though.
Were people coming up to you at the show?
Yeah! There was one guy that was at Three Links that I didn’t know that was at our show. He came by and was like, “That was really cool. Thanks for having those guys come by!” I was just like, “Uh, thanks for being there, man! I don’t even know what to tell you.”
When we were texting about this earlier, you said you were you were unable to sleep until about 5 in the morning because of all the adrenaline. How have things been now that it’s settled in a bit? Still feel like a dream?
It does. I mean, in a million years, would I ever think that those guys would ever come to see us and get on stage with us? No. I would think at some point we might cross paths or something like that and get to meet them. But to just have them walk on stage with us and sing a few lines? I couldn’t ask for anything more. It was exactly all I could’ve imagined happening. Like, leading up to it, too: I had it in mind that, if they came and if this actually happened and they came in during our set, I figured they wouldn’t be here long. But in my head, that’s how it went: I had that song in my head — like, “39” is the song; this is the song when they come in, this is what we’ll be playing.
So where does NR/CD go from here?
Well, we’re going to play at Division Brewing next weekend. We’ll see how that goes. I’m not thinking any big time celebrities are going to walk in during our set.
But now you’re the Tenacious D-approved NR/CD!
Yeah, that’s true! Shit, I don’t know. We don’t play a lot as it is. Y’know, we’ve had some pretty amazing shows already. We got play with Creed Bratton from The Office. We’ve been able to play with the guys from Trailer Park Boys. I mean, this is probably the biggest thing we’ll ever do. So, I don’t know. We’re not going to book more shows just because these guys came and saw us, I don’t think? Maybe we’ll have more people reach out to us and want to book us. But, y’know, I really don’t know that we’ll do anything more just because of it. We just don’t get together and practice that often, or really even book a lot of shows at all. We don’t really seek it out that much. It’s more of just a hobby for us.
Sounds like a fruitful hobby, considering.