I honestly can’t believe I got the chance to live a lifelong dream. To see John Carpenter, the filmmaker who influenced me to become a film director, perform music from his movies in front of my face. I’ve been listening to John Carpenter’s scores since the early 80s and have religiously playing his soundtrack music ever since.
But let’s first put something in perspective just how much respect he deserves for being able to do this. John Carpenter is touring the world with the music he created for his films, to go along with some of the music he’s generated for his two recent solo albums Lost Themes and Lost Themes II, which you can purchase at Sacred Bones Records.
This is something no other director in the history of film has done or could do. Not Alfred Hitchcock, John Ford, Howard Hawks, Orson Wells, Stanley Kubrick, Akira Kurosawa, Ingmar Bergman, Frances Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, William Friedkin, Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Brian De Palma, George Lucas, Oliver Stone, Tim Burton or James Cameron. None of them. They don’t perform the music for their movies.
John Carpenter has composed or co-composed the music for all but 4 of his movies, two TV movies and couple episodes of Masters of Horror. Think about that, the legendary director has directed 21 movies. Plus he’s composed music for two films he didn’t direct (Halloween II and Halloween III: Season of the Witch) to go along with a couple video games.
Ok on with the show.
I wasn’t there as a journalist, so in no way I’m not obligated to write this review. I’m writing because I feel I owe it to the man that made me want to be a film director and nobody else will tell what happened exactly like me.
It was an amazing experience to walk into Broadway, the Mecca of all Live Performances in the biggest city in the US, New York City and see John Carpenter’s image and name in lights for a Sold-Out Show. Plus everywhere you looked people were wearing t-shirts and jerseys that supported all the man’s work over the past four decades. Shirts with Michael Myers, Jack Burton, Snake Plissken, Blake the leper, John Nada and MacReady were just a few of the cool pieces of apparel representing filmmaker we all love.
I was standing in line (wearing my specially ordered John Carpenters’ The Thing shirt, which shows every character from the movie) with my John Carpenter pal Chris Sasser (wearing a Big Trouble in Little China shirt) and his John Carpenter friend James (They Live shirt), who both had taken the train up from Philly. Somehow our line got chosen to enter the venue first. What struck me right away as we entered the building was hearing John Carpenter’s music playing on the overhead speakers. Everywhere we went, his music could be heard before the show started. Including when I went to use the bathroom and Prince of Darkenss was playing while I was in the latrine. I couldn’t help but just smile and soak up the atmosphere because my favorite film music composer was finally getting his just due.
It was so cool just being able to talk to other people who respected John Carpenter’s films & music with the same fervor as I did. As I stood waiting for the show to begin, I really enjoyed speaking to total strangers about all things John Carpenter. My friend Chris, said he’d compare it to a religious experience and I’d have to agree.
Carpenter and his band hit the stage with “Main Theme” from Escape From New York, which not only was appropriate considering the town they were performing in, but it’s easily one of everyone’s favorites. Carpenter looked comfortable in front of the legion of 2,100 fans in attendance, did a little dancing and just soaked up the adoration aimed at him. It’s very well known that Carpenter has been weathered by the criticism and box office performance of his films, but we did our best to let him know his body of work deeply mattered to all of us and everything he’s done is not in vain. Carpenter was clearly enjoying himself and that made me feel better than anything.
The Main Title from Assault on Precinct 13 was next and I got to say it was beyond cool hearing the familiar melody pouring out from the speakers, while watching the handpicked images from the 1976 movie playing on the screen behind the band.
“Vortex” was the third song performed and I have to say one of the highlights of the night. It’s such an amazing track because it contains most of the Carpenter’s signature instrumentation and it point blank ROCKS!
“Mystery” was next and allowed the band move into some musical realms different than the other tracks played on this stupendous evening.
I loved that when the band performed “Main Title” from The Fog, the stage got covered with the white misty stuff. This matched not only the title of the movie, but created the fog enshrouded atmosphere Carpenter and DP Dean Cundey captured so well in their classic ghost story.
“Coming To LA” from They Live was absolutely one of the best songs of the entire night and it was beyond cool that the band donned sunglasses during this song. It has stayed with me ever since this show and when I talked to other folks in attendance they all listed it among the top 3 tracks. Just seeing all the Reagan-era themed subliminal messages from the movie playing while listening to the bluesy instrumentation just made everything work so beautifully.
“Desolation” from The Thing was next and Carpenter said a few kind words about The Thing Music Composer Ennio Morricone. I’m so glad they did something off what is John Carpenter’s pinnacle work as a director. I cannot never get enough of seeing the brilliant images from the movie because it’s just one of the greatest films ever made.
“Distant Dream” from Carpenter’s latest Lost Themes II definitely worked for me as well as the rest of the audience.
“Pork Chop Express” from Big Trouble In Little China was another stellar selection on the memorable night. One of my favorite moments occurred after this track concluded. Many in the audience held up The Chang Sing sign (as seen in the movie a.k.a. One Finger Shooting Zen) to show our universal approval to the master. How cool is that!
“Wraith” was next from the first Lost Themes album. It has some liquid like instrumentation which made for a cool live experience. Especially when paired up against the darker “Night” that followed. I particularly liked Daniel Davies heavy distorted guitar hanging on notes to emphasize certain moments of the song.
The pulsating rhythmic pattern to “Night” is very catchy and addictive. It made for a cool music video too, which parts of it was projected on the screen behind the band.
Cody Carpenter really showed off his keyboard prowess during “Main Title” of Halloween. Seeing the images of Laurie Strode, Michael Myers and Dr. Loomis were music for my eyes. Carpenter’s landmark slasher film is one of my two favorite movies and his score is legendary. But I will say I don’t consider it as one of the better ones of the night.
I was pleasantly surprised to hear In the Mouth of Madness “Main Title” as I was hoping but not expecting to hear it. During this Metallica inspired track, the highlight of the night happened for my friend Chris, when one excited fan yelled out “Sam F^&*ing Neill!”
After a brief break from the stage Carpenter and his band came back for a 15-minute encore that begin with a killer rendition of “Darkness Begins” from Prince of Darkness. Davies guitar really brought a crushing explanation point to this song about doomsday with the Devil. I might say the inclusion of this was the biggest unexpected treat of the night. I absolutely love the score for Prince.
“Virutal Survivor” off the latest Lost Themes II album was a cool avenue for the band to go. Then “Purgortory” off the first LT album was next and features a down sullen mood for the band to chill things down a bit. Parts of it remind me a little of Carpenter’s music for his film Vampires.
Carpenter wrapped the night with a wonderful performance of “Christine Attacks” from his highly underrated film Christine. The main melody of this piece has a huge hook that has staying power. Having just had re-watched the film shortly before this show, I totally dug the assemblage of footage backing the music.
It’s not every day you get to see your lifelong hero stand before you doing something he/she enjoys. The fact that I did, along with 2,100 other John Carpenter fanatics just made the night seem almost surreal. My daughter had national dance competition the day before this show in Hershey, PA. I choose not to go because of this once in a lifetime opportunity. Her dance team ended up scoring their highest award ever, but I feel I scored just as high attending this show. I guess we were winners all around.
If I was you, I would make it my mission to catch John Carpenter and his band when they come to your town. I’m still buzzing about the spiritual experience of soaking up the incredible music of John Carpenter almost a month later. I can’t thank the filmmaker/composer for taking his music on the road and giving all us fans an experience that will never be forgotten.