Review: Buckethead Live At B.B. King’s Blues Club New York City May 30, 2009
By Peter O’Brien
The marquee hanging over the sidewalk on 42nd Street proudly reads in bold, red, capital letters “BUCKETHEAD.” To the average pedestrian walking down the street the sign has about as much meaning or appeal as a disappointing sideshow outcast, but for those in the know the sign is a beacon attracting a special breed of music fan—the eclectics. People whose minds are wide open to all the diversity and uncharted boundaries of guitar instrumentation. Music that is so unconventional it can only be played by the masked slaughterhouse refugee known as Buckethead.
Down stairs the opening act, an artist named Wolff (http://www.myspace.com/wolffandtuba), is performing his solo electronic tuba music. Standing center stage he looks as though Liev Schreiber (as Sabertooth) let himself go, strapped a modified tuba to his chest, ran it through a collection of guitar effects pedals, and decided to perform. From a technical standpoint it is very interesting what Wolff has been able to achieve, but from a visual and aural standpoint he appears to be trying to hard. Each song is performed entirely using the tuba. He creates the rhythm by knocking on the instrument and then loops it using one of his effects pedals, then moves on to the next layer of the composition. Once the songs get going they are obviously very repetitive, but on top of that the levels are all out of whack because he is to busy performing to adjust anything. The best way to describe the sound is aneurysm inducing. To be fair the recordings he has available on his MySpace (http://www.myspace.com/wolffandtuba) do capture the true magnificence of his technical creation and provide the control necessary to display them. Sometimes an artist can’t capture their live sound on their recordings, that saying goes both ways.
At precisely 9:15 p.m. Buckethead takes the stage, his trademark KFC Funeral bucket is replaced with a plain white plastic one. The instant he strikes the first string the all to familiar scent of marijuana floats through the crowd; a moment the toker had no doubt been waiting for all night, thinking it will enhance his experience at the show, not taking into consideration the five hundred other people around him (including small children). At that same instant a sea of hands go into the air, but rather than showing support, or projecting admiration they are all holding up digital cameras in an effort to record the performance, obstructing the view for everyone not near the stage. Suffice it to say there was little to no concert etiquette displayed by the crowd; one would think that most of them had never been to a concert before in their lives.
None of this prevented Buckethead from issuing another savage performance and showcasing a mastery of his craft. With his iPod providing the background rhythm Buckethead began shredding up and down the neck of his modified Gibson Les Paul, occasionally pulling it down as he played, using his elastic strap to create an awkward illusion. Every trick, technique, and style, plus some stuff he probably just made up, was displayed during his performance. His slender fingers running up and down the fret board was, at times, hypnotizing. There were moments when he would play with one hand while using his custom red button kill switch to cut out the sound on the guitar, creating new rhythms and, in a way, very distinct riffs. The six-inch span between his first and fourth fingers no doubt allows him to manipulate chords and reach notes not common to average guitar players. All of this played with the dexterity, precision, and confidence of bird flying, or a cheetah running at top speed. He makes it look so easy and completely natural, like a bodily function.
Two-thirds of the way through the show he took an intermission to demonstrate his other talents. He began with two sets of nun chucks, whipping them around like he was going to take on the entire Foot Clan. He then put on two foam hands and proceeded to dance the robot, syncing his movements to hydraulic noises coming from his iPod. Afterwards he picked up a sack and began giving gifts (toys/action figures) to members of the audience. The intermission was extended while he went backstage to change a broken string. Upon returning he played to end of the show with out letting up, like a machine.
The only flaw with the show was the lack of other musicians. Granted, Buckethead is a solo artist in the most literal sense of the phrase, but if he’s the only one on stage and he moves out of view there is nothing to see – you can do that at home, for FREE! At least if he had a drummer and bassist you could witness the intense rhythm that he follows, instead of just hearing it. There were times where it seemed like he wasn’t even playing because his movements weren’t syncing up to the music in the background because of the delay effect. If there were other musicians your focus would be split and pulled together at once. The tradeoff is most of what he saves on overhead probably gets poured back into his plethora of albums he seems to simply sneeze out. The trick is finding a balance that doesn’t short change the fans that buy those albums.
If the opportunity presents itself Buckethead’s show is totally worth checking out. Whether a fan or musician you will find his performance not only entertaining and interesting, but also inspiring. The versatility and ease with which he transitions in and out of styles is remarkable. Add his speed and accuracy to it and it becomes phenomenal. Put a bucket and mask on his head and it becomes authentically indescribable.
Be sure to check out Peter O’Brien’s thrash metal documentary “Riphouse 151: Could’ve Been’s & Wanna Be’s” which is currently on the festival circuit.