Much of Brian “Buckethead” Carroll’s popularity has risen through his temporary stint as the guitarist for AXL Rose’s makeshift post millennium disaster that he is still stubbornly referring to as Guns N Roses. However, if you were a fan of Buckethead’s work prior to this, his inclusion in the group may have actually come as a surprise. Being introduced to his music through previous releases such as Bucketheadland (feat. Bootsie Collins and released on Avant-Jazz Sax legend, John Zorn’s label), Monsters and Robots (featuring Les Claypool), and DJ Q-Bert’s animated turntable masterpiece, Wave Twisters, I myself was shocked by his involvement in GNR. That is until I realized that, if Bon Jovi called me up and asked me to join him in a country-rap project, I would do it just based on the sheer novelty of the whole experience. My friend Lars gave me a report on the GNR show that he saw featuring Buckethead on guitar by saying, “I still can’t tell if this is the best show I’ve ever seen or the worst“. Based on what Lars had seen, he theorized that the tour wouldn’t last much longer due to Axl’s inability to restrain Buckethead or Carroll’s long-time collaborator, drummer Brian “Brain” Mantia, to his satisfaction. Of course, his prediction was right yet, Buckethead seems to still be primarily associated with the corn-rowed has-been. I may be wrong in my assumptions but, I doubt that there are really too many consistent fans of Buckethead’s music. His discography spans over 100 different albums in varying genres, including classic metal, electronic, funk, ambient, dub, jazz, and more. This means that, even if you have heard multiple projects that the musician has been featured on, you still may not have a complete grasp of what he is capable of or that you have had much more than a glimpse of the overall scope of Carroll as an artist.
The first time that I had an opportunity to see Buckethead live was on June 11, 2004 during the Bonnaroo Music Festival in Manchester, Tennessee. While many chose to attend a lackluster performance by Paige Mcconnell’s (Phish) band Vida Blue, I strolled over to a small tent on the other side of the field instead. Buckethead rounded up the lineup for Praxis, a “super-group” that included Brain (Primus, El Stew) on drums, Bernie Worrell (Talking Heads, Parliament Funkadelic, Woo Warriors) on keys, and the prolific producer/bassist Bill Laswell. I was completely sober but, that Praxis performance was still one of the most psychedelic and visually disorienting shows that I have ever seen and my mind was swiftly blown like a tenth of molly. Bill Laswell kicked into the bass-line of “Salt Shaker” by the Ying Yang Twins as Buckethead pop-locked holding an animatronic decapitated head that scanned the audience with its eyes and rapped the lyrics. Anyone who can’t find entertainment in a spectacle such as that, I don’t think I would want to be friends with. I witnessed Buckethead perform again at the festival with Material, another Laswell project, and later that year in Seattle with Colonel Claypool’s Bucket of Bernie Brains, which mirrors the Praxis lineup, with the exception of Les Claypool on bass. In 2006, I went to another show in Seattle where Buckethead fronted a trio which featured his old Deli Creeps drummer Pinchface, and had a much heavier and more straight-up rock sound. He’s released a dark dub album called “Devil Dub” with his group Ben Wa, gone in more electronic directions with DJ Extrakd on albums like “Bermuda Triangle“, and even appeared on albums with actor Viggo Mortenson and recorded under the acronym Death Cube “K“. His eclectic musical resume is beyond impressive but, it still forced me to worry that I may be rolling the dice by attending Buckethead’s 2009 New Years performance. A few advertisements aired for the show on local television which featured a track with vocals by Serj Tankian (System of a Down), who’s label he is currently signed to. It made me fear that I would be spending my night with what I feel to be some of his less appealing work. Unlike many of his fans, I don’t attend G3 Tour performances and have dreams of “surfing with an alien” so, I was actually a bit skeptical about if a mute guitarist with a cardboard chicken bucket on his head could maintain the audience’s interest all by himself. One thing that I knew I could be sure about is that, at some point in the show, I would witness something so incredible and awe-inspiring that it would make up for any cliched hair metal antics that I may have to endure.
We got downtown and hopped off of the metro at around 9pm. The bus, which reeked of 151 and weed, was packed full of paper-horn blowing assholes with plans to start their new years off “drunconscious” in tacky bile-stained Ed Hardy dress shirts that have embroidered eagles and shit sewn onto the backs. I hadn’t expected the show to actually start at 8 sharp but, when we arrived at The Moore Theatre, there wasn’t anyone else in line. I had expressed concern to the promoter that I may have trouble bringing a Digital SLR into the venue however, after 2 checkpoints without issue, I was escorted to my seats 4 rows back from center stage. We had already clearly missed the opening act, PCP (The Portland Cello Project), and Buckethead was already on stage when we walked in. He stood alone in front of a Marshall stack and a plethora of pedals and effects racks that provided his rythm section. His set started off that evening with “Night of the Slunk” (Monsters and Robots 1999) which is very heavy on the kill-switch usage. What I mean is that Buckethead’s Gibson is equipped with buttons that he presses rapidly to cut out the sound in choppy intervals, like a DJ with a fader. Halfway through he went into some one-handed guitar work, as he moved around robotically like an anthropomorphic character from Chuck-E-Cheese or Showbiz Pizza. By his second track, “Crash Test Dummy” (aka: “Crash Victim” from Praxis’ Transmutation), he was already making use of his trademark elastic guitar strap to stretch his instrument out towards the audience and fuck with everyone’s perception. His blank mask gives him such a stoic quality that every movement looks even more exaggerated and, combined with his gestures and rapid fire solos, it increases his appearance as being something more than human. Switching it up, Buckethead pulls the pseudo-ballad “Ghost Host” (“Decoding the tomb of Bansheebot” 2007), out of his repertoire before shifting to the raunchy guitar chops of the “Gory Head Stump” intro, where he momentarily wore a rubber head on his hand. Mid-way through, he thumps his guitar like a slap bass and takes it into an all out funk jam, before returning back to it’s much grimier start.
I was already up front and snapping photos by the time he went into “King James” (Crime Slunk Scene 2006), an ode to basketball star Lebron James. While he was playing, the wireless device that he had been using up until that point, began to fizzle out and his dreadlocked music tech P-Sticks came out mid-song. His huge goatee stuck out through the bottom of a surgical mask as he connected the guitar through a direct line and promptly exited back behind the equipment. In continuance of his rock-ballad/Lebron James/basketball theme, Carroll casually jammed that song into “Redeem Team” from his recent release Albino Slug. I think that was about the time that I was yanked the fuck out by security and taken into the lobby to explain myself.
I dropped some names and got sifted through a hierarchy of security. There were about 3 different men and each one was less receptive and more condescending than the last. The first two guys were actually pretty cool about everything, but the last one made me call the promoter from a noisy lobby. This was even after I stated that I wanted to step outside where it was quieter. “Can’t you call him from right here?” he asked. “Sure, I’ll call him from here“. I had already sent him a text and I didn’t want to interrupt whatever New Years festivities he may be engaging in himself. When he answered the phone, neither of us could hardly hear anything on each others end. He was extremely helpful and I heard him say, “Someone’s on their way“. I thanked him and, right as I hung up my phone, someone was already approaching and asking if I was the “photographer“. He walked me back in and down to the front where he informed another security guard of my authorization and instructed him not to harass me further. I started shooting again and, when the original guard re-approached me, he was waved off instantly. I’m used to this treatment and it wouldn’t be me or Monster Fresh, if I didn’t encounter some sort of issue. I actually prefer things this way for two reasons: 1) I still feel a connection to the makeshift ghetto roots roots of sneaking into shows that birthed this site and 2) I had only been shooting from obstructed angles off to the side before this all went down. Once you go through all of the drama of being scanned through upper management and they do eventually approve what you’re there to do officially, nobody below them fucks with you at all. You’re usually able to get away with a lot more than you might have, if that never happened. The risk of being removed has decreased so much; the staff has orders to leave you alone.
The crowd, more or less, remained seated as Buckethead went through tracks like the funk-metal “Fountains of the Forgotten” (Cuckoo Clocks of Hell 2004) and the highly popular “Soothsayer” (Crime Slunk Scene). Then it was time for the patented nunchaku and robot routine. As usual, the guitarist put on a recording of the space-funk “Minute to Forever” by the artist Freekbass and grabbed his nunchucks. He skillfully wielded them around before tossing them aside for a pair of giant blue foam fingers. The foam couldn’t quite cover the palms of his giant hands, while he did the robot and glided across the stage. He was really pulling out his bag of tricks at that point and now it was time for him to grab his bag of toys. When he walked over to a giant plastic shopping bag, the audience rushed to the front of the stage and I instantly found myself surrounded by a crowd. Buckethead reached into the bag and handed out random toys to his fans. Many were prepared with out-stretched buckets of their own to collect the free prizes and others even brought gifts for the performer himself. Among the gifts that Brian Carroll received were a “Star Wars” vinyl LP and a handmade replica of the Buckethead doll featured on his “Secret Recipe” DVD, complete with the detailed packaging. I personally was handed a Playmobil Dragon Kinights playset with projectile balliste. Some of the crowd walked away with Disney related toys representing Carroll’s fascination with the theme park that he grew up close too. One kid left the Moore Theatre that night with a large box containing an Disney acoustic Hannah Montana guitar. The interaction between Bucket Clause and the crowd was reminiscent of the classic Frankenstein scene between the monster and the little girl. He appeared like a kind hearted monster as he curiously, gently, and appreciatively inspected toys and gifts given to him by the crowd. Someone offered him a plastic hand with a plaid blood-stained sleeve. Carroll pulled it over his own arm and then did a short routine with it, which involved some more posing, slow-motion, and charging across the stage.
After the martial-arts/hip-hop/toy intermission, the audience was treated to a rendition of “Jordan“, a song which was named after Michael and has gained popularity with the kids as an unlockable bonus track from Guitar Hero II. By the time the toys had been passed out, I had feared that Carroll had exhausted every trick that he had up his extra-long sleeves but, the rest of the show worked as evidence to the contrary. There was a moment when the lanky musician froze in his typical mannequin-like fashion. A man dressed like a mad scientist came out to simulate electrical maintenance on Carroll’s back, while mechanical computer sounds pumped through the speakers. Once when Brian left to take a brief break, a stocky character entered the other side of the empty stage. He was wearing an old man mask like one my sister had when we were children. He picked up an electric mandolin and did a jig while plucking the strings off key. Eventually, the guitar shredder returned and they performed a little circus tune together. Later, during another break, the same man came out and placed two singing and dancing robotic chicken toys on a stool with a mic in front of them. Buckethead had various samples and audio clips that were featured throughout the show. At one point he mimicked vocals with his hand-puppet “Herbie” and, when he played “The Battery Cage Brawls“, (Bucketheadland 2) P-Sticks re-entered the stage in a mask and top hat to lip-sync the “ghost of Abraham Lincoln’s” dialog, “I didnt understand ya there young fella, would you repeat that again?” The man in the mask and P-Sticks subsequently came out to perform with Buckethead together. The man played the mandolin again but P-Sticks was holding a contraption that looked like a hybrid flashlight/theramin. Back in 2000 a man approached me in a Phish lot at Mountainview, Ca when heard us listening to Monsters and Robots. “Oh, are you guys listening to Brian?” he asked, and then proceeded to tell us how he was friends with him. Apparently, another of their friends invents crazy electronic instruments which he brings to Carroll, who plays them effortlessly. I’m unsure if P-Sticks was the inventor that he was referring to but, I’m assuming that he was performing with one of the instruments. At the end of the show, another character, resembling a space-age version of Devo’s Boojie Boy, rocked out on stage in a silver costume and a purple boombox.
Among originals like “The Revenge of Double-man” (Monsters and Robots) and “Botnus” (Enter the Chicken 2005), the bucket-clad rockstar weaved a few cover songs into the second half of his New Years Eve show. He incorporated the Hendrix classic “Foxy Lady” and even “Pure Imagination” from the original Willy Wonka soundtrack. Futuristic robotic sounds were manipulated from his white Gibson guitar and eventually melded into songs from John Williams’ monumental “Star Wars” work. Buckethead managed to reproduce blaster and R2d2 sounds with his guitar and jammed the medley into a phased-out version of “The Itsy Bitsy Spider“. Before the show was over, a professionally dressed woman entered the stage with a clipboard. She referenced the fictional “abusement park” that the Bucketheadland.com website is titled and modeled after. She thanked us for coming to the park and claimed that teh dead bodies had been cleared from specific rides. Buckethead finished the night off with “Welcome to Bucketheadland” (Giant Robot 1994) and ended the show abruptly before 11pm.
I was surprised that the show ended so early because I’m used to New Years shows that run through midnight with balloons dropping and the whole shabang. This was the last show of his tour and, based on what I have read, the show didn’t differ much from the previous set-lists on this run. I walked out of the Moore and a man was out front trying to hustle blank white buckets to people on the street. The crowd was very young and the energy was extremely positive, unlike what one may expect from a performer that often draws fans of metal and heavy guitar rock. I enjoyed the early dismissal, which allowed me the opportunity to get back to my area of town and have a quiet drink before the ball dropped. I have no regrets in my decision to spend my New Years at the Moore Theatre and wonder why I ever questioned it in the first place. Buckethead is a multi faceted artist and, although the show contained lots of heavy guitar noodling and sentimental ballads like those found on Colma, the tribute album for his sick mom, the guitarist made sure to incorporate enough elements from his eclectic career to please his fans of any level or genre. I encourage everyone who has ever had any interest in checking out one of his performances to do so. I’ve seen him 5 times now and, at every single one of those shows, I found something new and enthralling to come away with. There is a story about Buckethead unsuccessfully trying out for “The Red Hot Chili Peppers“, much like Les Claypool had for “Metallica“. Today, both of the men continue to be innovative in their crafts and consistently get better over time, while the groups that rejected them plateaued ages ago. Brian Carroll’s career and the versatility that he has shown as a performer should be more than just inspiration for aspiring guitarist. His shows aren’t just concerts; they are elaborate productions, utilized to display a genuine appreciation for those who have come out to support him.
We’d like to thank Swolfy & Kerry, the 2 friends who flew out from the East Coast just for the show. Swolfy provided us with a quick photo of the set list that she was able to snap while at the show (featured in Gallery below) and Kerry helped us out with the first video featured. Please take a look at Swolfy’s deviant art page to view her photographs from the show. We also reccommend checking out the rest of Kerry’s videos from her youtube page. They are really good quality and she was able to catch tons of footage.
(CLICK PHOTOS TO ENLARGE & VIEW)