The truth is that you can’t actually write about the talent possessed by Buckethead – not if you want to do a good job describing it. His is the kind of talent you have to actually witness, the kind of talent that is at its most impressive when you have the opportunity to actually watch his hands stretch the length of the fret board while his fingers play dancing games on the strings. You could listen to it on CD or you could watch him on YouTube and you may say, “That’s not really my style” or, “Why the hell is he wearing a bucket on his head?” or even, “He plays too fast for my liking.” But in reality, until you are standing in front of him and watching, you will not understand.
Boulder, Colorado’s Fox Theater had a line around the block well before 8:30pm on Saturday July 23, even though the main act wasn’t scheduled to start until 10:30 (and didn’t go on until 11). Within minutes of the doors opening, the small club was packed to the brim with black-clad fans who came out of the woodworks from Boulder’s normally colorful, granola-eating crowd. The Fox Theater, which through the years has seen the likes of just about any up-and-coming act that comes through town from early ‘90s Phish to, more recently, The Killers, Gogol Bordello and Girl Talk, was the perfect venue for these metal heads. Picture a rock club just small enough that you can see the stage perfectly from anywhere, but just big enough that you probably don’t have to worry about running into your ex-girlfriend. It’s kind of dingy, but not noticeably unless you really look around, and they have all sorts of beer on tap for reasonable prices. And it’s loud.
11:00 PM, cue Buckethead. As his name suggests, a white bucket sits atop his head, his face covered by an expressionless white costume mask. His white Gibson Les Paul guitar hangs just at his waist as he faces the crowd, shadowed only by a couple of Marshall amplifiers and some speakers. There is no band associated with Buckethead, and apparently that’s the way he likes it, having walked away from Guns N’ Roses and reportedly refusing to take off his mask to play with Ozzy Osbourne.
It must be like a dream for him – and not one of those dreams you have at night where your mother, dressed in a chicken costume, walks you to school in Sweden but you’re actually supposed to be in school in Ireland, and your school uniform is supposed to be blue but instead you’re wearing green and now the whole day is ruined – no. It’s like one of those dreams where you stand on stage in front of a million people and do something you’ve dreamed of doing all your life, and everyone just stands and stares and listens because you’re so damn good. And there is nobody else around to take the spotlight away from you. And you can do whatever you want, and everyone will just eat it up. And then when it’s over you take off your mask and go back to living your normal life.
Between the hours of 11:00 PM and 12:30 AM, not a word was spoken by Buckethead to the crowd – he just played his guitar over pre-recorded backing music. And I’ll tell you, I like music because it’s alive. It’s hard for me to be enthralled by a concert where anything is pre-recorded, be it hip-hop or electronic – I’ll listen to it on my stereo but the stage needs some life. But I was completely enthralled by Buckethead for his entire tenure onstage, despite the fact that I knew the name of not one song he played with the exception of the theme song from Space Jam. He jammed, he rocked, he gave out gifts to the crowd, he played with nun-chucks and pretended to be a robot, he played some more, and then he woke up and went back to his normal life. And nobody complained.