Sunday , 26 March 2017

John Carpenter, Master of Horror, rocks NYC!

John Carpenter live marquee

Movies and music have gone hand in hand since the beginning of film. Of course, with the early days of silent film, music was the only sound you could hear. Since the advent of “talkies,” music has remained an essential component to movies and has often elevated the films far beyond what the story and visuals on screen would have conveyed. From the sweeping, epic scores to Gone With the Wind and Lawrence of Arabia to classic themes from horror films, Psycho and The Exorcist, from John Williams iconic music for Jaws, Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark and countless more Steven Spielberg films to Tangerine Dream’s evocative soundtracks for Sorcerer, Thief and Risky Business, it’s difficult to think of any of these films without also thinking of their accompanying music. When it comes to horror, one man’s film’s stand out above them all when it comes to music that sets the mood and remains etched in the minds of all those who hear it. That man is the legendary director of Halloween, Escape From New York, The Thing and many more – the one and only, John Carpenter. What sets Carpenter ahead of all others with regards to the music in his films is that he has composed much of it himself. Now, he has not only released two albums of brand new material, he has taken that music and many of his seminal film work on the road performing to audiences for the very first time. And when his show recently hit the Big Apple, the Gore 4 was there along with a passionate and devoted sold out crowd.

John Carpenter trio

From the late 70s into the 90s, Carpenter gave his fans a steady output of work within the genres of horror and sci-fi. But his last two feature film directorial efforts have been 2010’s The Ward, starring Amber Heard, and before that, 2001’s Ghosts of Mars, with a couple episodes of TV’s Masters of Horror in between. However, last year, Carpenter ditched the visual medium and devoted himself to the music, releasing Lost Themes, an album meant to be a companion to a film that never was. It was so well received, it wasn’t long before indie label, Sacred Bones, was more than happy to do a follow-up, Lost Themes II, a more rock and blues oriented album than the previous synthesizer-based one. Carpenter’s band was actually a family effort, as John was joined by his son, Cody, and his godson, Daniel Davies, who also happens to be the son of the Kinks’ legendary guitarist, Dave Davies. (Unfortunately, the name, The Carpenters, was already taken, so they’re just going with the very identifiable name, John Carpenter.) When the band, at Davies’ suggestion, decided to hit the road for a few European shows, which led to a full-blown tour in the U.S., they were joined by Jack Black’s hard-rocking backup band, Tenacious D, members John Spiker, John Konesky, and Scott Seiver, with Carpenter and his son on keys and Davies on guitar.

John Carpenter live - The Fog

Everyone, whether it’s actually written down, or is even consciously aware of it, has a bucket list of things they want to do or see. Hearing John Carpenter’s transformative music played live by the maestro himself, along with a kick-ass band, was definitely not on that list, only because it was something one could never dream of. Now, at the age of 68, Carpenter has not only made that dream for his legion of fans a reality, he’s realizing his own dream of becoming a rock star, as he certainly was Friday night (July 8, 2016) at the PlayStation Theater in Times Square in New York City, brandishing the ‘sign of the horns’ popularized by Ronnie James Dio, as he hit the stage. As the instantly recognizable opening notes to the title theme from Escape From New York filled the theatre, this packed house of enthusiastic fans, including half of the Gore 4 themselves, knew they were in for a memorable night. Played by a live band, the theme sounded richer, fuller and more powerful than ever before. Adding to the sensory sensation was a screen behind the musicians showing classic clips from the film. This took place the entire night. Following Escape was Carpenter’s ode to Howard Hawks, Assault on Precinct 13 (with that still startling image of a young girl shot in cold blood), followed by two tracks from his Lost Themes’ album, “Vortex” and “Mystery”. These new tunes fit right in with Carpenter’s film work, and were earnestly received by the crowd as well. As the main title theme from The Fog began, actual smoke emanated from the stage, enhancing the already eerie mood. For They Live, the musicians donned sunglasses as the words, Obey, Submit and Consume from the movie flashed on the screen.

John Carpenter live - The Thing

“In 1982 I made a movie named The Thing. We’d like to play the opening theme (by Ennio Morricone) in his honor.”

With that, the band began playing that foreboding and unsettling composition by this year’s Oscar-winner for Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight, the only track of the night not written by Carpenter himself. It was certainly welcomed by the audience, and it especially warmed our bloody hearts seeing classic scene after classic scene from the movie shown on a big screen. A track from Lost Themes II came next, “Distant Dream”, with its steady, driving beat that reminded one somewhat of Tangerine Dream. Carpenter then brought up the man, and good friend, he has made five movies together with, Kurt Russell, before launching into Big Trouble in Little China’s “Porkchop Express.” After another Lost Theme, “Wraith,” Carpenter noted that the music so far had been “uncharacteristically positive….let’s go a little darker,” setting up another track from the album, “Night,” which would seem right at home in William Friedkin’s Tangerine Dream-scored Sorcerer.

John Carpenter live - Halloween in Dallas

{from the Majestic Theatre in Dallas, June 24, 2016]

“I have a serious confession to make. I make horror movies. I love horror movies. Horror movies will live forever.”

As the crown roared, Carpenter and company began what is probably his most readily identifiable and influential theme, that from the film that all but created the modern slasher, Halloween. While images of Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasance and the Shape were shown behind the band, the audience relished every note from the film that evokes not only a holiday and a season, but an entire genre itself. The theme from Halloween is the perfect example of much of Carpenter’s work – relatively simple in structure, but elaborate in the tone and mood it sets. Next came the hardest rocking tune of the night, from In the Mouth of Madness, as the band really let loose. It sounded so great, you never wanted it to end. But when it did, the band left the stage, though not for long. The first encore came from the underrated sci-fi horror, Prince of Darkness, then, from Lost Themes II, “Purgatory,” followed by a track from its predecessor, which began quite mellow before becoming funky and ultimately segueing into full blown darkness, “Purgatory.” The night ended with one last tune, which came after Carpenter warned, “Christine is out there.”

After the band took their final bows, the still buzzing audience was left with the feeling that they had shared something truly special and unique, not just this fantastical night, but a shared love of horror films, a genre with fans perhaps more devoted, and discerning, than any other. Everyone wanted more than just their memories to take with them after the show, as the souvenir area was surrounded by a hundred people or more, clamoring to buy a t-shirt from one of Carpenter’s many films, or the music itself. Carpenter’s films remain as popular today as ever before – they haven’t become dated, and they’ve included groundbreaking effects and have influenced countless filmmakers. They have been, and still remain a big part of all our lives, and the music written and performed by the master himself, has stayed with us as well. For future tour dates, merchandise and more, check out the Official John Carpenter website. And pick up either of his Lost Themes albums, on CD or vinyl, at Amazon.com.

John Carpenter Lost Themes

Will we one day get another classic John Carpenter film? Maybe, if we’re lucky, yes. But until then, we’ve got some great new music from the man. Long live John Carpenter, and long live horror!

— review by Brian de Castro

3 comments

  1. 'Walking' Ed Turner

    Great coverage of the concert! Wish I was there. Loved that they did The Thing theme in honor of Ennio Morricone. He will not be forgotten. Love that cover picture of Lost Themes! Carpenter’s music is simple, but couldn’t be more effective. His music, like his films, have a way of getting under your skin and making it crawl – sorta like the THING! *AAAAHHHHHH… . . . . .*

    • Brian de Castro

      You make it sound like Ennio is gone. He’s still around and just won an Oscar at the age of 87 for his fantastic score for Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight, which also included some of his unused music from The Thing, as well as starring Kurt Russell himself. It sure would be great if Carpenter and Russell would team up once more for another film.

  2. 'Walking' Ed Turner

    Oops! For whatever reason, I thought Ennio was gone. VERY glad he’s not!
    And I agree – Carpenter and Russell should definitely do something again together. Sci-Fi, horror or both would be great!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*