Knowing that what I was walking into could turn out to be anything, and having no serious expectation for what "anything" might be, I grabbed my Buckethead ticket and was off to the venue.
The opening act for Buckethead was a musician named Mike Silverman, more commonly referred to as "That 1 Guy." I entered the din just as his act was beginning. One of my Agents In The Field had alerted me to the performance of That 1 Guy, telling me in vague detail that his act could be worth paying attention to. That said, I entered, found a place to stand comfortably, and watched.
That 1 Guy, as you might expect, is a one-man band, a whirling dervish of home-made percussion. His unique instrument, which he calls the "magic pipe," appears on sight to be an amalgam of different aluminum pipe lengths of all diameters, a series of hinges, and a lot of other things attached that generate noise. His music is a collection of repeating rhythms and the occasional verse.
My first reaction upon seeing all this was "What the hell am I watching?" as I stared at the stage, puzzled by the gyrating man in the hat and the rhythmic stomping of his music with the assistance of his "magic pipe," "magic saw," and "magic boot." After some reflection, I thought I figured it out. "Oh, his use of everyday and industrial items to generate music can only be his way of expressing artistically the unconsidered acoustic potential of objects in our lives!" Then I shook my head. "Nah, that can't possibly be right. What the hell am I watching?"
Regardless, it was then that I began to look around and take casual notice of the other patrons. I started to see a trend among the people around me. They were a casual, woodsy bunch. "Boy, there's a lot of members of Tad here," I thought. Waitaminuteholdon. Faded, tattered flannel? Felt hats? Listless swaying to music? Emanating an undeserved sense of entitlement? .......there are hippies here! In large number! I tried to give them the benefit of the doubt. After all, there's a chance they could be industrious, well-meaning people. Who am I to judge? Then That 1 Guy began playing a song on his "magic boot," and one of the patrons near me proclaimed to this girlfriend "He's playing on a freakin' boot! That guy's crazy, man! That's like, impossible that he's doing that!" Well, I tried.
Corollary to all that, I should say in summary that That 1 Guy was fairly entertaining, I certainly hadn't seen anything like it before. The only other true home-made instrument I had seen play was at the Motograter concert. Very different crowd, by the way. If he comes to your town, and tickets are ten bucks or less, it might be worth an evening out.
Moving on. Buckethead. By the time Buckethead hit the stage (it took a little while, the house music got eight songs into Clutch's "Elephant Riders" album,) I had wormed my way closer to the front, and I couldn't see any of the hippies still hanging around.
Buckethead's stage layout isn't terribly complex. Since he is also a one-man act, how much does he really need? He had his automation equipment, a small fan, some amps, a couple pieces of statuary (my knowledge of history fails me as I could recognize both busts, but not place who they depicted,) That 1 Guy's instrument (obvious foreshadow,) and that was it.
Then comes out Buckethead, a man with an expressionless mask on his face and a chicken bucket turned over his head. For those keeping track, the bucket he wore this time out was plain white, not as depicted in the picture at top. Dressed in a navy blue jump suit and armed with a solid white guitar, the show began.
Let me begin by saying that Buckethead is as tall as you've heard. He's a big man, albeit he's somewhat like a basketball player in that he's remarkably lanky. Also, one of the secrets to his guitar playing is the same secret that helped Jimi Hendrix; his hands are massive. With only a slight exaggeration, I'm telling you that at any given time, his hand can cover almost a third of the guitar's neck. He also has exceptionally long fingers.
Coming in, I knew that Buckethead was a damn fine guitar player. I happen to be a big fan of Claypool assisted "Monsters and Robots" album. Still, I was suitably impressed. He is not just a virtuoso who happens to have a gimmick about a mask and a bucket; he is one of the finest players I have seen live; superior to Zakk Wylde, easily mentioned in the same breath as Jeff Hanneman or BB King. I'd say Alex Lifeson, but I'm not a big Rush guy. (Sidebar concerning Mr. King. You're saying to yourself "He's not metal!" and you're absolutely right. But watch him play live sometime and tell me there's any guitarist who's better at picking the exact right note at the exact right moment. Plus, ladies love the guy.) Simply stunning to see Buckethead play the way he does. He continually played his guitar for a hair over two hours, and at no point did I lose interest.
I'd love to be able to stand here and rattle off the long list of songs he played, but the unfortunate truth is that without the benefit of lyrics to differentiate them, and with so many albums to his credit, some songs can be difficult to distinguish. There were a handful I could make out, but for the most part, I was engrossed just in the simple act of watching the man play.
Two interesting moments in the show. For those who don't know, Buckethead doesn't speak while on stage. so when he broke a string and had to stop in the middle of a song, he could only demonstrate to the crowd by holding up the broken string for all to see while running backstage. In his absence, his assistant, who wears a mere doctor's mask, picks up an effects box and fills in the silence in time with the beat.
Secondly, during a short break of playing, Buckethead did a brief nunchuck demonstration (which I didn't know he could do,) and then danced a very convincing robot for several minutes.
Toward the end, That 1 Guy made a return, and performed all the percussion for the two of them. Their half-hour series of jams was entertaining to watch, but perhaps more restrained than it could have been. It had the appearance of two professionals who haven't quite played together long enough to be totally comfortable. Still, the unique blend of sounds and effects, along with the mixing in of some cover songs, kept the energy going.
After the duo separated, there was one more song by Buckethead alone, and then with a wave, the show was over. All in all, a great night, complete with a small mosh pit for certain selections.
Really, it was a fantastic show. Better than I had anticipated, and if this tour happens to be coming near you, tickets are pretty cheap. If you think you might enjoy it, I encourage you to give it a shot. Buckethead has all the signs of a man who loves to play, and has intuitive skill with his instrument of choice. As I said, quite possibly the best pure guitar player I've seen in person.