For as enigmatic, secretive and absolutely bizarre as Buckethead is, his business model seems classically simple: give the people what they want. In this case, that’s really fucking fast guitar playing and, holy shit, did he do a lot of that on Tuesday night at Cargo.
Aside from a couple dancing breaks, Brian Patrick Carroll, aka Buckethead, played guitar for almost two hours straight to a series of backing tracks. There were no song introductions, no banter with the crowd, hell there wasn’t even a microphone onstage.
Early on in the set, Buckethead stuck closely to what was expected, heavy churning riffs punctuated by moments of blindingly fast playing with songs such as “Jowls,” and “Soothsayer.” His ability to make the guitar sound like anything but was also on full display as his constant use of the killswitch, whammy pedal and an assortment of other electronics had him emulating arcade noises, gunshots and car engines.
He played songs that spanned his extensive catalogue and elicited countless oohs and ahhs from the crowd of about 300 with a bevy of virtuosic techniques. Even with his playing being clearly rooted in rock and metal, it was his surprising versatility that kept the crowd engaged and the show from being too one-dimensional.
His Victor Wooten style of guitar slapping was a highlight and welcome recess from his other material, as was his chicken pickin’ on “Hog Bitch Stomp” from his 1996 album “Giant Robot.” But the biggest surprise of the evening occurred when Buckethead put down his guitar, put on two foam fingers and did a surprisingly good pop & lock dance break to a robotic backing track. He then picked up nunchucks and did a brief Bruce Lee style bit before scooping up a large, blue bag of merch from behind his amps and giving CDs and DVDs to everyone lining the foot of the stage as electronic music thumped behind him.
Buckethead then continued his set with “Jordan,” a song inspired by the basketball great. After a bit of research, I found that he is actually a huge basketball fan. It’s oddly fitting, really. Perhaps the biggest part of Buckethead’s draw is the desire to watch someone do something you can’t do, not unlike sports. However, without a backing band, his performance fell a little flat. It was like watching Lebron James throw alley-oops to himself off the glass for two hours; entertaining and amazing but lacking the substance that comes with playing a full game. Buckethead’s performance would have benefitted greatly from the natural tension that occurs when multiple musicians take a stage together.
The set was brought to an end with “Nottingham Lace” and there were no encores. Buckethead simply left the stage, the house lights came on, and the audience chatted gleefully about the incredible guitar pyrotechnics they just witnessed. The simplicity of it all was striking in juxtaposition to complexity of everything Buckethead had just played, and it just might be that kind of contrast that he thrives on.