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POP MUSIC REVIEW

Fast guitar riffs are sort of like fast food

Buckethead, the player in the KFC bucket hat, displays great skill at the El Rey. But this meal isn't well rounded.

November 23, 2005|Steve Hochman | Special to The Times

There's certainly nothing wrong with virtuosity. And there's nothing wrong with practicing virtuosity while wearing a white, expressionless face mask and an inverted KFC bucket as a hat. It's worked well enough to give Brian Carroll -- known to the world as Buckethead -- a decent career as an underground guitar hero (the last few years more aboveground thanks to his stint in the latter-day Guns N' Roses).

But Monday at the El Rey it would have been nice if there had been more than just blindingly (and deafeningly) skilled fretwork under that bucket. The nunchucks, robot dancing and other shtick engaged in by 'Head and accomplices (bassist Dan Monti and drummer Pinchface) don't count.

There is much more on Buckethead's recent "Enter the Chicken" album, a set of songs with guest vocalists including System of a Down's Serj Tankian and Iranian-born Azam Ali of world fusion group Vas giving a tone somewhere between System and an artier Evanescence. None of the singers joined in Monday, though, leaving Buckethead's chops to carry the evening.

Make no mistake -- he has considerable chops. The first five minutes alone had him evoking such six-string maestros as Randy Rhoads, Eddie Van Halen, Jeff Beck and even surf-stylist Dick Dale, strung together with Mr. Head's own idiosyncratic quirks, sudden stylistic shifts and musical asides. But the next five minutes weren't much different. Nor the next. Nor the next. Even an "It's a Small World" quote (one of several Disney-related themes) was used twice.

Only the relatively subdued "Whitewash" (think Jeff Beck meets Mark Knopfler) and a stunning acoustic-guitar spotlight showed musical qualities to match his technical ones. Other than that, without the bucket and goofy antics, he would have been just another fast food-loving guy who can play really, really fast.

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