Buckethead | JazzFest | New Orleans, LA | 05.03.03

There is very little that we know about the man in the mask. Extremely secretive, the one called Buckethead goes to great lengths to conceal himself from the public eye, inciting many questions regarding his familial lineage and origins in the minds of those he fascinates. Hours of painstaking research has shed a little light onto the myth, and the few facts that have been discovered only enhance the quest for a right of passage into Buckethead Land (facts which I will not disclose here, so please feel free to do your own research).

By Dr. Shouse
What is known for sure is this: as a musician and as a guitar player, Buckethead is a superhero scientist holding talents beyond most that is considered instrumental greatness. The ferocious genius is one of the most highly respected musicians in all the land, easily recognized by the company he keeps. And yes, that means Axl. Buckethead has worked with prodigal perfectionist producer Bill Laswell on numerous projects, including the many incarnations of Laswell’s Praxis as well as Colma, Buckethead’s assortment of astrological ambience.

Last summer, Buckethead got the call to join forces with old friend Les Claypool in the thermonuclear mothership thrash project Colonel Claypool's Bucket of Bernie Brains, along with Woo Daddy Bernie Worrell and former Primus drummer Brain. Claypool and Buckethead have been in cahoots for many years now, as Buckethead often joined Primus when they were still stirring it up in the pits. In fact, during the recording of the super-trio dynamism that was Oysterhead’s The Grand Pecking Order, Les Claypool requested, or rather insisted, that Trey Anastasio play heavy because he was going to play the record for Buckethead. Les wanted to make sure that his old friend approved of what he was doing because, well, if there is an authority on guitar work it is an alien robot here to save the world with music.

By Forrest Hirtzel
As Les continues to explore his artistic endeavors and embrace the openness of the musical world, he always brings his friends along to wreak some havoc. And if there is an opportunity for Les to wreak the most havoc, it is JazzFest and he knows it. So what does he do? He brings the Bucket of Bernie Brains down to NOLA. And do you know what that means? Buckethead unleashed. Not once, but twice.

The rock was brought to the State Palace Theatre in downtown New Orleans on that last Saturday night of JazzFest 2003 with an intense double-bill of Ween and the Bucket of Bernie Brains. Now for JazzFest, it does not get much harder than that (well, except for maybe Jason Newsted with Gov’t Mule, but that was across the street). After a week of the jazz and the funk it was time to throw up the metal and get into the rock, which was brought first by the New Hope nasty boys Ween, straight punching away from first note. Singalongs to "Bannanas and Blow" and "Roses are Free" filled the State to the brim with heavy energy, and the floor during "Doctor Rock" was the closest thing NOLA saw to a mosh pit. The boys started a fire in that place, and it was about to run out of control.

By Forrest Hirtzel
Anticipation burning through, Bernie Worrell took seat behind his arsenal and began freaking things out a bit in that frenetic Woo style. When it became almost too much to bear, Brain appeared from stage left. Then the moment arrived. Standing around six-foot-six and bearing a pure white Gibson Les Paul Custom, Buckethead stepped out into the light with Les soon following. Brain dropped a backbeat and Les layed it down, opening space for the first of the Buckethead shred. Leading into the Bucket/Claypool science nonfiction composition "Giant Robots," the Bucket of Bernie Brains took it out but never strayed from the aggressive. When given the open floor, monster tone shook the room as Buckethead’s fingers devoured and screamed. A fire was let loose, controlled, and let loose again as the movements from the quintessential metal to country pickin’ to finger-tapped symphonies delivered layers upon layers of a sonic ceremony, enhanced by the custom toggle switch the masked one used to cut things up, creating that ill DJ effect. The entire performance was extremely tight and well communicated with all styles complementary and exploring, but they did not step back even once. And when you have Claypool and Buckethead onstage together, there will be no shortage of antics and play.

By Forrest Hirtzel
Buckethead had with him an array of gifts including a Colonel Sanders bobblehead he personally handed to the some lucky audience members, as well as a little plastic chainsaw he first used on Bernie while he was dropping a super funked-out clavinet solo. During Brain’s marathon of a drum solo, the spotlight shone upon the pig masked face of Claypool seated in one of the theater’s opera boxes. Behind him crept Buckethead who proceeded to cut off the pig’s head with the chainsaw in the finest of slasher form. Tossing red confetti into the air and over the balcony wall, Claypool played the perfect murder victim and Buckethead the perfect killer. After the homicide, the band returned to the stage for a final session of annihilation, next level musicianship and celebrity, never surrendering to a pause in power. But that was just the beginning, because over to the Howlin' Wolf we go for Buckethead solo.

By Dr. Shouse
Dubbed Buckethead’s Cajun Fried Recipe, this show featured an impromptu jam session which at first glance looked to be one of the more crazy of alliances. Combining the hot breaks of drummer Mike Clark and the thickness of bassist Rob Wasserman holding down the floor, with a double-shot of Galactic’s swamp fuse in saxman Ben Ellman and ivory-tickler Rich Vogel alongside Buckethead, the possibilities of this gig were endless. The adventure continued after the Recipe as Buckethead gave a solo performance soaked in speed and versatility, devilish proficiency and soul, lots of soul. And for all those searching for that secret door to Buckethead Land, well, they might have had it cracked open for just a moment.

By Dr. Shouse
The band opened the groove up with warmth, and it was an amazing sight watching Clark and Wasserman get into the cut as Buckethead followed suit, laying down some serious slap/finger-picking that was not-of-this-world. Both Vogel and Ellman added some spices until things really cooled down and the group needed to find its center once again. Buckethead immediately stepped to the front, setting an atmospheric vibe with his composition "Whitewash" from his 1998 release Colma. When first listening to the studio version of this track, one might assume that Buckethead is using a delay to create the doubling of notes and the echo sensation, but ears can be deceiving. An unparalleled slight of hand was playing each note with a touch so soft and sure that it fools the sonic understanding of the mind. Mike Clark and Wasserman locked in and the drama began, each bar becoming more uplifting than the previous as the energy in the room reached a colossal peak. Anchored by the metal drumming of Clark, Buckethead unleashed an unearthly inferno of rage and solace, bringing screams to the air and people to their knees with an uncompromising solo. By the time the smoke had cleared, the audience was left aghast at what it had just witnessed. Heads had been cut like never before and Mike Clark had just had one of his more shining moments in recent years, playing metal. The jam was now over and fright night was about to begin.

The other members of the Recipe left the stage to a loop of the "Thriller" beat being played, on what was assumed to be a DAT machine plugged into the PA system as Buckethead took center stage. What was to follow was to be one of the most ominous and declarative, mind-altering and sensory challenging experiences ever witnessed. We would have a personally prepared soundtrack for the evening, just something to add to the multi-dimensional dementia of Buckethead’s solo performance. Eerie dialogue interspersed with dramatically changing rhythmic attitudes was the groundwork for a soliloquy that opened eyes to what was inside the mask.

By Dr. Shouse
Early on it was difficult to decipher what exactly was happening. Buckethead’s playing was reaching new levels of intensity as the twists and turns of the music shook reason free. First the background was pure monster rock and the fire once again took hold. Then in an instant there was a carnival and it seemed as if Buckethead was playing only the notes that sounded uncomfortable, each coming at the strangest times during the ride. The earth soon erupted as the thrash took over, Buckethead raging around the stage with a barrage of heavy riffing. And once again it was time for presents, as the masked one delicately handed out each one to hungry hands. The ultimate liquid breaking session followed, the syncopated contortionist style being one of the trademarks of this mythical figure as well as his superfine nunchaku skills. Both were displayed with unsurpassed spontaneity and grace really getting the place hot. Once again the soundtrack played tricks with dialogue but this time it was a little clearer: we were riding through Buckethead Land. The earthly plane had been broken and we were let inside. The images painted by the music were ones of science fantasy and sideshow shimmer as only Buckethead could create. The tension and release of the guitar sinistry mastery coursed with unbridled passion. As the performance came to an end an it was time to say goodbye, Buckethead gingerly picked up a package of child-like figurines, looked down at them, then back to the audience and back down. Tonight, we were his children.

As he waved his final goodbyes, he clutched the toys to his chest and walked off stage as the sounds of used car salesman giving the tour of Buckethead Land still echoed throughout the room. Looking around, all the faces who joined in this great adventure bared immense joy and serenity. The story that they had been craving, in part, had been told and now it was time to meditate on what had been learned.

By Dr. Shouse
It was a night of feats met with both conviction and pleasure, as it was quite a rare opportunity to behold one of the galaxy’s most powerful forces in all its brilliance. Expressionism unparalleled, Buckethead opened the doors to his benevolent and intoxicating world for all those wishing to enter. His altruism is clearly evident in the mannerisms with which he interacts with people, handing his admirers presents rather than tossing them into the crowd so they can fight for it, and holding each person close in an angelic display of affection. The most profound lesson is that the one who wears the mask is not to be feared but embraced. Often it is the simplest and most profound ideas of existence and freedom that are the links between the worlds, and Buckethead is the great orator of these ideas.

Although there is still little known about what lies behind the mask, there is sustenance and righteousness all throughout. And I can be 99% sure that the gentleman standing behind me at the New Orleans airport metal detectors on Tuesday morning knows everything there is to know about Buckethead, but that was neither the time nor the place to do any further investigation. So until the next ride through Buckethead Land, questions of identity might still remain, but questions about his universality will never enter the mind.

Robbie Krevolin
JamBase | JazzFest
Go See Live Music!

[Published on: 5/11/03]

Take full advantage of all JamBase has to offer by signing up for an account!

You'll receive

show alerts

when your favorite artists announce shows, be eligible to enter contests for

free tickets

, gain the ability to

share your personalized live music calendar

and much more. Join JamBase!