Live at the Hotel Utah
Reviewed by Megan Shaw
Sunday, November 01 1998, 2:28 AM
The white-masked figure turned on the television and watched. His body language showed mock amazement and astoundedness at the fantastic deals the home shopping network was offering on autographed football merchandise. He fumbled for the telephone, then handed it to the audience and gestured wildly for them to place some orders. While glancing back and forth between the audience and the television, he picked up an electric guitar. He took the phone back from the audience and turned off the TV. Crouching on the red rug in front of it, he began to play. Millions of fantastic notes poured out, like what you would get if you took a completely original guitar improvisation, inspired it by martial arts, pushed it through the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland a hundred times, and then gave it a starring role in the Japanese sci-fi classic film Giant Robot.
Buckethead, wearing a Kentucky Fried Chicken bucket on his head (which he lost at one point and I got to hand back to him), a Kentucky Fried Chicken vinyl backpack, a mechanics' jumper, and Converse All-Stars, was a picture of all-American postmodern traditionalism. His show at the Hotel Utah in San Francisco in early August was a technically challenged but nevertheless awe-inspiring treat for the ears and pop culture watching eyes. Buckethead played very little from his mellow and ambient record Colma, which was the only disappointment. He was also visibly frustrated at the difficulties his two technical assistants were having keeping his many guitar cords plugged into the right machines. As Buckethead mimed for the audience, one of his assistants, Maximum Bob, mimed in response to him so that the two of them created a vaudevillian floor show.
Most of the music Buckethead made that evening was the kind of raw and wild improvisation that has captured the attention of his collaborators John Zorn and Bootsy Collins. His technical virtuosity is such that Buckethead appears to have grown extra fingers with which to express it. He seems to have four hands, as I watched him play guitar while simultaneously making two death's head hand puppets talk to each other. A gifted mime, Buckethead creates a distinct fictional character on stage like an actor in a one-man play. But he doesn't use speech, only mime, props, and music. His character is a giant robot just like the ones in the movie, a hyper reactor to pop culture, a storyteller, and story re-teller who communicates through the languages of body movement and music.
Buckethead is at his best because his performance simultaneously grips the audience on three levels: first, through the pure sound experience of his music; second, by way of the physical performance of his miming, dancing, and martial arts performances; and third, through the interpretive acts he performs on his props, such as a videotape of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. As he showed it, Buckethead re-narrated it by composing music in lieu of the original soundtrack. Wearing a Michael Myers (which is reminiscent of both Halloween and the character Leatherface of Texas Chainsaw Massacre,) Buckethead meshed both horror narratives together by appropriating them into his character's mystique, and then he reinvented them musically through his improvisation. It is hard to imagine a more complex or inspired theatrical experience than a Buckethead solo guitar performance.
Buckethead's recordings are available through Cyberoctive