(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Concert review - Frankenstein Brothers with Wolff and Tuba

27 April 2012 (Aggie Theatre, Ft. Collins CO)

Three completely different flavors of weird, experimental music came together in a single show. Outsider musicians firmly locked into their own beats, each act offered a glimpse of a different, alternate musical universe.

Brian Wolff opened up the night with his tuba and other toys. Next up, That 1 Guy played mad scientist with his self-designed Magic Pipe. Then shred-meister BucketHead abused a poor defenseless electric guitar during his solo set. Finally, the monster assembled: That 1 Guy and Buckethead combined forces as Frankenstein Brothers, even pulling in Wolff for a song.

Wolff and Tuba
Someone neglected to tell Brian Wolff how tuba works. In his world, tuba isn't delegated to the back line of the brass band and there's no concept of oompah. Instead, Wolff took the sounds from his tuba along with his voice and fed them into a host of effects to create a palette for his looped musical creations. Just like Adrian Belew uses his guitar synthesizer to evoke surprising mutations of sound, Wolff creatively sculpted the sounds he needed for each song

He built his rhythm tracks by tapping the body of the tuba and by beat boxing. A more normal tuba sound provided bass line material. Then, pitch shifting whammy pedals let him push his melodies into higher registers. He used echo, distortion, and other guitar oriented effects to open up a rich set of sonic possibilities from crunchy heavy metal rhythms to walls of orchestra synth.

Wolff adapted these elements to hit a number of genres, from experimental hard rock to electronic grooves. His set provided constant novelty and WTF moments. Singing into the mouthpiece of the tuba, which has its own built in mic, his distorted vocals rounded out the sound like a disturbed Tom Waits.

As much as I enjoyed his original songs, including The Triumph of Delusion, his deconstructed cover of Prince's When Doves Cry was amazing. Mechanical beats and heavy bass defined his approach, but he nailed the staccato keyboard riffs, too. His fuzzed out singing added an OCD desperation to Prince's lyrics.

Wolff was a perfect opener for Frankenstein Brothers. The music was intriguing and a little challenging. At the same time, he showed a similar theatrical flair.

Frankenstein Brothers

That 1 Guy
That 1 Guy opened his solo set with Modern Man and its Baba O'Riley style arpeggio groove. Where Wolff's tone was raucous, That 1 Guy was crisp and funky.

That 1 Guy is uniquely astounding. Starting as a bass player, he found the standard bass was too claustrophobic. He wanted to expand into rhythm and wider range of sounds. To reach this goal, he had to invent his own instrument, the Magic Pipe. Part standup bass, part drum synthesizer, the Pipe is a complex collection of strings and triggers. That was only the first step. Next, That 1 Guy became a master of the instrument.

The Magic Pipe provides percussion, bass, melody, and sound effects for That 1 Guy to bow, slap, or tap into place. Like the last time I saw him, he still used his catchphrase, "But wait, there's more" before launching off into another polyrhythmic groove. From jungle beats to the soundtrack of a deranged hoedown, That 1 Guy's had a kid's delight in zipping off in five directions at once, combined with a more mature musical ear.

More than just the music, his theatrical sense kept the crowd locked in, whether he was miming the sound effects or throwing in a magic trick or two. The audience was very familiar with his songs as they grooved to Butt Machine and sang along with The Moon is Disgusting.

After That 1 Guy's set, Buckethead sauntered out in his mask and KFC bucket. His show had a different balance of theater and music that contrasted a mechanical, emotionless affect with fluid, expressive bursts of guitar shred. He'd lock into a stiff Robot Dance while the notes escaped with dreams of freedom, like a musical embodiment of Ellison's I Have No Mouth, But I Must Scream. Buckethead played his solo set against a set of prerecorded instrumental tracks that grounded his musical explorations. Even though this imposes some limits on the song forms, his lead work destroys any sense of predictability.

Buckethead's mastery of heavy metal stunt guitar exceeds Yngwie Malmsteen's, but he proved that his musical tentacles reach further afield. Atonal, experimental flurries gave way to in-the-pocket jazz chops, which fell to twangy country tones. The stylistic change-ups and dynamic shifts kept the audience's attention.

Beyond his robotic stage persona, Buckethead's show had a couple of other standard features, including a toy exchange in the middle. Like an E.T. Santa, he diffidently handed out toys to the front row. Many people brought toys to trade, which he'd examine and carefully set aside. That led into a brief nunchaku kata.

After the mid-show break, there was the ritual of the kill switch. Buckethead's guitar has a red kill switch that cuts the signal when pressed. Rhythmically tapping it during a solo creates some very strange, feedback laden sounds. As Buckethead slowly traversed the apron of the stage, he allowed the audience access to the kill switch, letting them control the glitchy fury.

Frankenstein Brothers
After a brief break, Buckethead and That 1 Guy came out for a shared set. Like Frankenstein's Monster, the assembly was distinct from its constituent parts. With That 1 Guy setting the groove, it opened up Buckethead's playing better than the prerecorded tracks of the solo section. That 1 Guy stretched out, too, manipulating the Magic Pipe to get the sounds of keyboard washes and violins.

One of the stranger songs was a mutated, detuned version of Joe Walsh's Life's Been Good. That 1 Guys deep vocals led into the only time I've ever heard bass yodeling. It was similar to Tuvan throat singing.

Wolff joined the two for a song that featured a blistering set of exchanges between the tuba and guitar. This took the classic call-and-response form into a warped carnival sideshow space.

The set wrapped up with a cover of Pure Imagination (Willy Wonka) leading into Bolt On Neck. The Led Zeppelin inspired crunch of the rhythm line worked the crowd into a final frenzy.

More photos on my Flickr.


  1. That sounds like a fun concert. Did Malcolm enjoy it?

  2. Mal loved it. I'm not so sure his friend Ian cared for it. At least Malcolm was already familiar with Buckethead and That 1 Guy.