John Carpenter brings horror scores to life at The Keswick

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John Carpenter | photo by Kevin Thomas | courtesy of the artist | <a href=http://studiohousedesigns.com target="_blank">studiohousedesigns.com</a>
John Carpenter | photo by Kevin Thomas | courtesy of the artist | studiohousedesigns.com

Going into Saturday night’s John Carpenter show at the Keswick Theater, I had no idea what to expect. Would he stop the show to check on the latest on the NBA’s Summer League? Would he need to leave to chase Pokemon? Based on his reputation via the internet, anything was possible.

However, once the lights dimmed and the band came out, it was clear that he and his band were there to take John Carpenter film fans on a trip down memory lane. A shot of Kurt Russell as Snake Plisskin came up on the screen and the crowd went wild as the main theme from the Escape From New York score was performed. Carpenter’s compositions are synthy, hypnotic and driving. Some pieces, he re-arranged to add a bit of modernity to particularly the theme from Assault on Precinct 13 had some more percussion to make it more dancey.

Carpenter talked a bit between songs but, as was pointed out to me after the show, he was reading from a script. The prefabricated aspect of the banter came across as things he’s probably said at Horror Conventions past — for example, “Horror will live FOREVER!” But the crowd ate it up.

He’s also got moves – his hips shook to the funky parts of the score and he raised his fist like a DJ working a Made in America crowd. For someone with the reputation of being a bit of a curmodgeon, this guy seemed alright by me.

Carpenter was mind blowing, a dream come true for me

A photo posted by Paul Acker (@paulackertattoo) on

The favorites were clearly the themes from his films: “Coming to LA” from They Live included the band putting on sunglasses before playing and yes, they showed clips of the epic fight scene. Halloween’s theme caused people to lose their damn minds once Carpenter’s son, Cody, played the opening piano line. The pieces Carpenter released on his Lost Themes compilations did not have the entire audience as engaged. While some left to grab a beer or use the facilities at these points in the show, plenty of us rocked out to the fleshed out live versions of his non-film pieces.

Carpenter seems to enjoy making music more so than having to answer to film studios and compromise his vision. Movies from the 70’s and 80’s have a quality in terms of practical effects, and plots that focus on fun and scares more than utter logic and back story that make Carpenter seem like like a man out of time. His music is still fresh and can be enjoyed on its own without the visuals. While most of the crowd was there for nostalgia, Carpenter is a fine composer whose sound can be heard in M83’s music, Cliff Martinez (Drive, Only God Forgives, The Knick) and Steve Moore (The Guest), among others.

After the concert, I took part in a meeting with the co-hosts of the wonderful Film Junk podcast who drove all the way from Niagara, Canada, to see John Carpenter play. Not only are Sean Dwyer, Jay Cheel, and Frank Knezic huge fans of his music, but they have recorded several thorough discussions of Carpenter’s film work in their premium podcast collection. You can check out an excerpt from one of those below and download them via Bandcamp here, here and here.

Setlist
Main Theme: Escape from New York
Main Theme: Assault on Precinct 13
Vortex
Mystery
Main Theme: The Fog
“Coming to LA,” from They Live
Main Theme: The Thing (Ennio Morricone composition)
Distant Dreams
“Pork Chop Express,” from Big Trouble in Little China
Wraith
Night
Main Theme: Halloween
Main Theme: In the Mouth of Madness

Encore:
“Darkness Begins,” from Prince of Darkness
Virtual Survivor
Purgatory
“Christine Attacks,” from Christine

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