Buckethead: Gimmick or Guitar God?
Words & Photos By Nicholas Stock (phatphlogblog.blogspot.com)
At what point does the gimmick overshadow the performance? The obvious answer is Buckethead. The man is an amazing guitarist but something is not right in this world. The idea a performer who dons a KFC chicken bucket on his head for a concert has always intrigued me, and some of his side projects such as Colonel Claypool’s Bernie Bucket of Brains have been huge successes. However his performance last weekend in Fort Collins simply left me perplexed. From his robotic dancing, to his nunchuck display, to the fact the he performed with an iPod rather than a band all added to my confusion. Going into the show I was ready to be blown away, despite rumblings of disgruntled fans from the previous night’s show at The Gothic. Buckethead had had some sound issues and some missed cues in Denver but I was still trying to be positive for the show in Fort Collins. It did go off without a hitch technically but that was the least of my issues with the show.
First, we missed Brian Wolff who has been touring with Buckethead. Brian is the tuba player from the now defunct electronic rock band Drums and Tuba. I grew up catching these guys and was sorry to miss his solo performance. The issue was that his set was over before 10:15 PM and Buckethead didn’t go on until almost midnight. Something is wrong with that. Who thinks that it’s okay to have an hour and forty-five minute set break? It most definitely is not. A fan informed me that the reason was that he always stays an hour away from the venue so as to keep people aloof about who he is. Well let me go ahead and spoil it, his name is Brian Carroll, from California. He’s just a dude that shreds, so I don’t understand all the theatrics related to concealing his identity.
I made my way down to front right around 10:30 PM to the disgust of many angry fans that were simply rude to me. I informed them (as I always do) that I’m there to take pictures and then I would be on my way. I found a spot dead center in the third row and waited. The fans were as dedicated as any group of people I’ve encountered. Some had shown up as early as 7:00 PM to get a spot on the rail. It’s impressive to see that kind of following for anyone who plays live. It was an incredibly diverse crowd too. Everyone from hippie to metal head was in attendance at the Aggie.
So when Buckethead finally made it onstage the crowd was in a tizzy, it took all of about 30 seconds for the front rows to disintegrate into a giant mosh pit. I held on tightly to my camera as some of the fans around me attempted to hold back the sea of people. It was all for naught. I got a few pictures and that was it. I was pushed out. Not only that, but most of the people who had been waiting for hours to see their hero were also in the back by the second or third song. At that point I made my way upstairs where Scoo had graciously given me refuge. I was finally able to focus on the music and in all honesty Buckethead is a hell of a guitarist. His ability to mash the fret board and squeeze-in an insane amount of notes is nothing short of awe inspiring. Going from guitar to bass he is one of the most musically proficient individuals ever to perform live.
There was a carnival-like atmosphere as Buckethead reached into his giant sack mid-set to disperse random toys to the crowd. Afterwards, he jammed on the bass before going back to his guitar for a face-melting solo. He ended that jam with the only song I recognized which was a note for note tease of Hendrix’s version of “The Star Spangled Banner”. It was impressive to see, but I couldn’t get over the foam hands and the nunchucks. What was the point? And why the hell didn’t he bring a band with him? Who wouldn’t want to play in Buckethead’s band? It would be easy to assemble a group of talented musicians that would follow his every lead. In the end, I just tried to enjoy myself as these questions swirled around my head. The show ended as quickly as it began with Buckethead heading backstage and out into the darkness of the night. Buckethead is an amazing musician with far too much distracting from his playing.