One of the weirder gigs I’d ever attended (weird in a good way), and definitely the most unique rock guitar instrumentalist I’d ever seen live. Seriously, who is this guy!? Buckethead, better known to the IRS and his immediate family as Brian Patrick Carroll, is a sight to behold. He’s a lanky guy with a mop of curly hair, with a startling looking Michael Myers mask and white bucket atop his head. He’s like a ghoulish apparition…but with a gorgeous alpine white Les Paul Custom in his hands. Buckethead uses his own signature Gibson, a unique beauty with white pickups, no fret markings and red “arcade style” kill switches. It’s like there’s arcade buttons on that guitar. He’s a prolific recording artist and very well regarded within the guitar world, with connections and collaborations with acts like Iggy Pop, Bootsy Colllins, Guns N’ Roses, Serj Tankian of System of a Down, Mike Patton of Faith No More and Les Claypool of Primus. He’s released over 250 albums (!!!!!!) and composed and performed music for various films including Saw II, Ghosts of Mars, Last Action Hero, the Mortal Kombat movies, and Mighty Morphin Power Rangers??? In short, Buckethead is…something else. And definitely jaw dropping.
Watching him onstage, he’s a cross between a ninja assassin, a robot dancing wiz, a guitar virtuoso…and Santa Claus. Not only can buckethead shred, but can do so while doing the robot. It sounds silly as hell at first. But seeing it in person just adds to the man’s funkiness and gloriously weird stage presence. And then there’s the nunchuk portion of the show. A martial-arts enthusiast, Buckethead went into an impressive nunchuk routine while EDM music blasted in the background. Just like his guitar playing, Buckethead is a master at fluid motion and efficiency of motion, making his dance and nunchuk routines appear elegant and gravity defying. It was like watching an emotionless mannequin come to life, moving about with this weird mechanical grace, an oxymoron right? But still, there was a grace and fluidity to all that bodily motion and performance art. His fret work was just as fluid and precise, even at blazing speeds. Definitely one of the fastest players ever, Buckethead’s style of playing is more accessible, more groove oriented than the likes of Vai, Satriani, Gilbert or Petrucci. His guitar lines grooved, rocked, went up to the stratosphere, and came back down for lovely, soulfully melodic playing. The epitome of that magical combo was “Soothsayer,” prompting hoots, hollers, devil horns and a standing ovation at the end. That song slayed. It began with a gentle groove and a lovely arpeggio, then picked up momentum and went into a fist pumping groove and shred fest. But it wasn’t simply a rock instrumental. It was also an emotionally satisfying piece of music. Other tracks performed included Jowls, Gory Meat Stump, Jordan, Lebrontron, Buckethead and Friends, Giant Robot, as well as sections of John Williams’ Star Wars Theme, Hendrix’s Purple Haze and Pure Imagination from Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The set was around 100 minutes total and included surprises like the audience coming up to the front of the stage to demo the kill switches on the Gibson. At another point in the show, Buckethead and a crew member pulled out a sack and handed random gifts and stuff to audience members. It was like a bizarre yet rockin’ version of Christmas.
As far as the stage production goes, the man has little to no overhead. There’s no backing band, no elaborate light or video show, just the artist, a dependable backing track, the backline rig, and one guy with a pony tail. Buckethead’s the show, what more do you expect or need. The crowd was very diverse. I enjoyed chatting with the guy to my right, we talked about Santana and how he’d seen a show at the Fresno Fair Grounds back in ’88. It’s always cool to see the different t-shirts at shows like this, you get to see the love for other artists. I spotted tour shirts by Megadeth, Mastodon, Godsmack, Rush, and of course I wore my Dream Theater Astonishing Live shirt. About the venue, the Tower is essentially a seated concert hall with no balcony, classic movie theater set up with a moderne art deco design. The Tower Theater is a historical landmark and it’s the visual and symbolic anchor for the Tower District itself and surrounding neighborhood. It seats around 750. It was tough to say how full the venue was, not a sellout but there was definitely a strong turnout, impressive for this kind of niche artist, musician’s music as some have said. At $35, attending this show was a no-brainer. Even if you’re not familiar with his music, you’ll walk away stunned and agree that it was money very well spent.