Bucket full of presents

Buckethead entered strapped with a white Les Paul guitar, passing by his seated stage companion, an inflatable man masked like him. Imagine Michael Myers combined with a Ringwraith from The Lord of the Rings, and it sort of captures his look: a lanky ghost made less horrific through a gentle demeanor and his signature top hat, a large KFC bucket.

It was Buckethead’s New Year’s show at Ace of Spades, and a thousand people packed the place to marvel at the elusive guitarist. Either that or tickets to the Primus New Year’s show in Oakland were too expensive. Those were the two choices.

And this wasn’t a bad choice. Accompanied by a drummer and bassist (plus the blow-up doll), Buckethead played everything: wah-ed funk, shreddy metal and soft-spoken, sad-face instrumental ballads, to name a few. He also occasionally displayed another talent: animatronic moves. Often, he’d play while doing the robot.

Being a New Year’s show, there were holiday gimmicks. Dialing something complex on his fretboard, Buckethead used his free hand to pass along party hats and cones, one by one, first receiving a hat from his helper, then singling out an audience member and gently reaching into the crowd. Then another hat, all while he continued to play with his fretting hand. He must have parted with some 20 hats before someone in the audience offered their own KFC bucket to him. He obliged and stacked it on, provoking cheers.

I expected something weird to ring in 2018. Nope. Around 11:56 p.m., a stage hand nudged Buckethead mid-song. He and the rest of the band stopped playing and left the stage. Around 30 seconds till, the drummer returned to lead the countdown. It happened. A batch of red and white balloons released onto everyone. Inside Ace of Spades, the year’s first three minutes consisted of people punching balloons to pint-clinking Irish punk coming from the PA. On the bright side, it looked festive! On the downside, it was Flogging Molly.

Buckethead returned, playing a riff from the song “My Name Is Mud,” the joke presumably being—Primus. This continued what made the bulk of the show: a series of random songs, covers and guitar solos bridged by the same towering rock interlude. Instrumental “Pure Imagination,” then back to the interlude. Fan favorite tune, then back to it. For like an hour. If it’s supposed to be one song: What the hell? But if it’s understood as a structure for a really unpredictable set, pretty cool!

The show ended with Christmas. A stagehand hauled a big bag onstage, and Buckethead pulled random shit from it to toss to the crowd. Concertgoers tussled for the prizes, including board games like Chutes and Ladders, an emergency poncho, a miniature action figure of Batman’s Commissioner Gordon and a box of photo booth props.

Even though it was the wrong holiday, I thought this was a creative intermission. It took a whole five minutes. But, once the sack emptied, Buckethead played another 45 seconds or so before disappearing from the stage. It felt off. But perhaps “off” is the musical giant’s charm?