Live Review: Buckethead at The Tower Theater, Fresno 6/23/16

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.

System of a Down Set For 2015 Tour

Metal band System of a Down are gearing up for a short tour in remembrance of the 100th anniversary of the genocide in Armenia, their native country. While not a “prog” band by any means, SOAD is well known for their anarchist, anti-government, anti-crony capitalist, and especially anti-war cries. They are also known for rather offensive lyrics, at times. Of all the bands of the early 2000s (their last album came out in 2005), System of a Down is probably the best at being up front about what they believe, and I can respect that and can even agree with them on some issues. Serj Tankian, the lead singer of the band, is, in his own right, an excellent poet, both in his music and as an author. He is a multi-faceted musician and composer, even writing and releasing an orchestral Symphony in 2013. Needless to say, the band knows music and cultural criticism.

Dream Theater: A Metal Anomaly



The second half of 2013 sucked. So did the first few months of 2014. I’d rather not get into the reasons why, but needless to say, one of the high points of last year for me was becoming a Progarchist. I say that because being apart of this awesome site has given me the opportunity to listen to music and bands that I otherwise would have never heard, and I have loved it. One of those bands is Dream Theater.

I first heard Dream Theater when my roommate was playing it towards the end of the spring semester of 2013. At first, I didn’t really like it, mainly because of LaBrie’s voice, but I couldn’t complain since I was the one that got my roommate into the “prog” genre in the first place. I didn’t think much of Dream Theater again until I became a Progarchist and received a review copy of their recent self-titled album. All I can say is, WOW. LaBrie’s voice grew on me, and I wondered how I had not discovered this band years earlier. What had I been missing? The technical skill of the musicians astounded me, and I found the vocals haunting. Little did I realize how their lyrics would profoundly touch me over the coming months.

As I said, the last several months haven’t been the best. Most of my family and friends wouldn’t (or don’t) understand it, and that’s ok. Regardless, I found myself drowning in music. I couldn’t/can’t get enough of it. It became an escape for me, and the go to genre when I’m really feeling down seems to be metal. I turned to the heavy metal albums from personal favorites of mine such as Avenged Sevenfold and Disturbed. I connected with the anger and the desperation, especially with Avenged Sevenfold’s 2010 album, Nightmare, featuring former Dream Theater drum god, the great Mike Portnoy (coincidence, I think not). Nightmare is dripping with anger and frustration, as the band struggled to cope with the recent death of their drummer, Jimmy “The Rev” Sullivan, who was probably one of the best metal drummers ever (you don’t believe me? Listen to the albums “Waking the Fallen” and “City of Evil”). I also was drawn to the punky pissiness (pardon my French, as it were) of the bands Three Days Grace and System of a Down. I soaked in the mysterious lyrics and awesome rock of Chevelle, which has been one of my favorite bands for a long time (their latest album, La Gárgola, is fantastic). I found myself being drawn into this world of angry rock, while simultaneously withdrawing from the people around me.

I actually enjoy the loud, obnoxious, sometimes screamy sound produced by many of these bands. It has always been a good release for me. But, something is missing, especially from Disturbed and Avenged Sevenfold. Hope. Hope is missing. The closest thing any of these bands have to hope is Three Days Grace’s song “Never Too Late.” The rest of it focuses on the darkness they think they find themselves in. That’s ok at first, but after a while, it can drag you down, if you let it. I let it.

This is where Dream Theater comes in. I listened to the their latest album, and I heard the song “The Bigger Picture.” I heard these lyrics and was blown away, as corny as it sounds:

Would you talk me off the ledge
Or let me take the fall
Better to try and fail
Then to never try at all

You look but cannot see
Talk but never speak
You live but cannot breathe
See but don’t believe

Wounds that never heal
A heart that cannot feel
A dream that’s all too real
A stare as cold as steel

I’ve listened to the stories of resentment and disdain
I’ve looked into the empty eyes of anger, fear, and shame
I’ve taken blood from every stone
And traveled every road

When I see the distant lights illuminate the night
Then I will know I am home

Those seemingly simple lyrics rocked me. Then I heard “Along for the Ride” :

I can’t stop the world from turning around
Or the pull of the moon on the tide
But I don’t believe that we’re in this alone
I believe we’re along for the ride
I believe we’re along for the ride

Then I heard “Illumination Theory” :

To really feel the joy in life
You must suffer through the pain
When you surrender to the light
You can face the darkest days

If you open up your eyes
And you put your trust in love
On those cold and endless nights
You will never be alone

Passion glows within your heart
Like a furnace burning bright
Until you struggle through the dark
You’ll never know the joy in life
Never know, never to know
You’ll never know
You’ll never know

I couldn’t explain it, but the lyrics spoke to me. I heard “Another Day” off of Images and Words, and that spoke to me as well. These songs offered hope, not despair. They did not wallow in the gloom, but looked forward to the light. Dream Theater may receive flack for not having deep lyrics or cohesive albums, but to me, it doesn’t seem to matter, because the band accomplished what I believe they set out to do. They wanted to reach somebody and share their hope with that person, and it worked. The best part: not once do Dream Theater sacrifice musical talent to get their message across!

Through the cold and endless nights, I felt alone. I had drifted from my faith in God, and I was in a dark place. Then I heard “Illumination Theory” calling me to open my eyes and to put my trust in love, and if I did, I would never be alone. Growing up, I was always told that God is love, and that He is always there for His children. It clicked for me, and I could finally see the light. It was a rough few months (where the only thing I could find purpose in was my studies, which thankfully I did well in), and I had a hard time relating to the world around me. But, Dream Theater was able to touch my soul in a way that the other metal bands couldn’t. Metal, on the whole, is rather devoid of hope and joy, and that is why I see Dream Theater as an anomaly. They don’t play by everyone else’s rules – they write their own, and for that, I am grateful.

It may seem lame that Dream Theater had such a profound effect on me during those dark days, and I really can’t explain why they did. All I know is that I believe I’m along for the ride, and it’s a ride I’m proud to say I’m now happy to be on. Thanks Dream Theater.