Okay, I have to admit, on paper… Buckethead is likely a polite no thank you for most folks.
1. He plays alone with a backing track, not a live band.
2. An old robot movie plays during the show.
3. He wears a plastic mask.
4. He wears a KFC bucket on his head.
5. The whole show is instrumental, aside from the part where he uses a rubber mask with his hand inside of it to “talk” to the audience.
6. There is a nunchuck break.
7. He gives out and sometimes exchanges toys with the audience.
8. There is also a robot dancing break.
As stated before I have known 2 people who have seen Buckethead and have raved about it. When I saw he was coming to town, touring for the first time in several years, I bought a ticket.
In the weeks beforehand I made my decision to go right down front for this show. If I am gonna see Buckethead it had to be from right up close.
The day came and I made a trip to Mad City Music Exchange and they closed at 6. I made the short drive to the downtown area and parked behind The Majestic. I walked past it at approximately 6:15.
There were already 2 people waiting! I’m guessing they hadn’t shown up moments before, so they were waiting over 2 hours before the doors even opened at 8. I needed food though, so I went to The Tipsy Cow and had some food and did some people watching.
At 6:45 when I got back on the street, there was a bit of a line. So, grudgingly, I grabbed an Isthmus and wandered over and sat down. An hour and 15 minutes before doors open is a record for me. Generally I arrive like 15 minutes before a show. So this was a first. The first of many firsts.
The people in line in front and eventually in back of me were a great cross-section of Buckethead fans. In front of me were fans from Minnesota and Illinois. Behind me was a couple from Iowa and a long-haired guy who was smiling with his eyes closed and both hands working an imaginary guitar oblivious to all of us watching him. Directly behind me was a guy in his late 20’s who had seen Buckethead many times and told his grandmother she needed to come. She did. She started up a conversation with the couple from Iowa and apparently she was a groupie back in the day. She told a bunch of fantastic stories. According to her, she dated Bun E. Carlos (from Cheap Trick) for quite a while. She was a riot to listen to.
At some point Art Paul Schlosser showed up.
When the doors finally opened, we filed in and everyone scattered. I ended up at the stage with the couple from Iowa next to me on the left, and the grandson on my right. It was 8:00. Show started at 9:00. An hour to go, ugh. However, the crowd was mellow and the conversations were about bands and movies (I fell into a conversation about the movie “Logan’s Run”) and previous Buckethead shows. The time was not as agonizing as I would have expected. 9:00 came and went and no Buckethead yet. 9:15, 9:30… sigh. I had just passed the 3 hour 15 minute wait mark, a definite first for me, when the lights dimmed and the overhead the monster movie started playing on the screen and a recorded vocal passage played over the speakers.
The crowd went b-o-n-k-e-r-s.
A roadie with a flashlight helped Buckethead out to the stage and the show began.
He was wearing a short-sleeved blue jumpsuit over black shirt and black pants and what looked like Chuck Taylor shoes with pen scribbling on the white rubber front portions. He was of course wearing the mask and KFC bucket. I had no idea he was so tall. With the added height of the bucket, he was an imposing figure onstage.
After twiddling a couple knobs and a quick check of the pedals (there were tons of them!) he hit the first note.
Auditory nirvana followed.
It was amazing. The sound was sharp (good job Majestic) and clear and I have to say that I stood there for a few minutes with my mouth hanging open as I watched his hands commune with the strings (and buttons) and make unbelievable music. The first song was fast and hard and grinding, but the second song was a slow melodic tune, equally good.
For the first time I noticed the crowd. They were standing just like me, amazed. No moshing and bumping, respectable space was maintained. Most people were simply transfixed.
Then I realized a camera was strapped to my wrist and I started snapping.
I wish I could have watched me at this show. I went through phases. I would stand there dumbfounded at what was happening, completely grooving to the music, then take up the camera and shoot a bunch, then stand dumbly again, not really believing how awesome this was. I was blown away.
In my head I figured Buckethead to be a technical player like Satriani, or Steve Vai, or Malmsteen, but his vibe was more bouncy and rhythmic. It was weird not to see his expressions as he played because of the mask. It gave him sort of detached look, not creepy. It must have been DAMN HOT in that thing.
After a while he put down his specially made Gibson and picked up the bass that was off to stage right. What followed was a crazy finger popping string slapping session that was mind blowing. I found my woo voice during that and woo’d at the top of my lungs.
Then he went back to the Gibson and shredded some more.
The long-haired air guitar guy was dead center and looked like he was having a seizure his hands were furiously hitting notes in the air so hard and fast. He obviously plays himself and was here to worship.
Then abruptly, Buckethead set down his guitar, and was led offstage. I was like WHAT??!! Then they announced there would be more Buckethead music in 15 minutes.
Ah… intermission. I have never experienced that at a live show. Weird.
No one left their spots upfront.
When he returned he grabbed the acoustic guitar from stage right. He knelt down in front of me and was working some pedal knobs and playing a really cool slow acoustic song.
Then he stood up and walked over to my right and handed the guitar to a woman in front. “Play it!” was shouted by several nearby crowd members. It was soon clear thought that this was a gift and not an invitation to play. Buckethead had returned to his spot and picked up the Gibson.
The woman was totally freaked out. I held my camera over the crowd and amazingly got a shot of her and the guitar. Check out her expression.
More shredding ensued.
There were other things that happened in the second set.
At one point he put on big rubber monster gloves and did his robot dance. It was very cool.
He also at one point grabbed a rubber mask and with his hand inside working the mouth he spoke to the crowd with the backing track.
Then he grabbed a big bag of toys and started handing them out to the crowd down front. Some people brought gifts they were hoping he would take.
He came down the edge of the stage and I ended up getting something right from his hand.
Yep, Hello Kitty Halloween stickers!
Then in a rare stroke of luck when he reached the end of the stage he still had some stuff and he was tossing it out. I got another item.
Star Wars Tie Fighter figure!
It was a riot. Just worthless junk, but you damn well know I am keeping them. That’s show swag! I’m gonna hang the Tie Fighter in my music room and put Hello Kitty stickers on my external hard drives. What a cool show bonus. I looked around for the young girl that had been nearby to see if she wanted the stickers at first, but I couldn’t find her.
Then Buckethead was led offstage again.
With an intermission, would be come back for an encore? Answer?…
He was back behind his Gibson and crushing it some more.
This was the best show I have ever seen for pure entertainment. The sights, the sounds, the novelties. It was all amazing.
When he finally went off stage and they turned the house lights up, signaling it was truly all over this time, I stood there for a bit, not really ready to leave this show behind. I exchanged some looks with the people I had waited with outside that said… “Holy shit, can you believe how good that was?!”. Everyone was smiling and shaking their heads.
Yeah, this just happened. Buckethead.
The only noise now was of a hundred beer cans on the floor being kicked as people turned and shuffled slowly for the exits. I made it to my car, sat for a moment to collect myself, then headed home.
What a night.
What a show.
What a performer.