This review of John Carpenter on tour was originally published June 25, 2016
The voice came out of nowhere in the packed lobby of the Majestic Theater in Dallas, TX. I turned to look for the source of the voice and there stood a beautiful lady in her mid-50s, perfectly put together from the hair to the nails to the shoes that perfectly matched the color of her blouse. In short, she was NOT who I was expecting to see at a concert by legendary horror master John Carpenter.
“Yes, we really can be,” I replied with a smile.
“Yes, WE can,” she emphasized back.
As this finely dressed lady continued to chat with me about her love for Texas Frightmare Weekend and all things John Carpenter, I began to take a look around the room at the assembled crowd. We were the metaphorical melting pot. Race, gender, and age differences meant nothing in this group of die hard fans who gathered to witness the maestro performed the music he composed for his films and for his two recently released albums, Lost Themes and Lost Themes II.
As the doors opened, the excitement released in a dull roar as people stopped at the full open bars for drinks and headed to their seats. Inside the theater, energy levels were high. None of us really knew what to expect from this concert. We’d all heard vague descriptions. I had two friends who had seen the show earlier and their descriptions set my imagination on edge. Carpenter, with a band, playing his music as images from his films were shown on a screen behind him.
The question that seemed to be on everyone’s lips was, “Do we call John Carpenter a master of horror, or has he been a rock god in disguise all this time?”
As the lights dimmed and the curtains rose, as John Carpenter and his band took the stage, as those first images of Kurt Russell as Snake from Escape from New York appeared on the screen and the music punched its way through the chest cavity of every member of that audience, the answer became clear. This man is BOTH!
For an hour and a half with only the briefest pause between pieces, Carpenter held his audience in a tight fisted grip. The man is a showman and he seemed thrilled and content to let the music and imagery speak for themselves rather than giving explanations or talking about his compositions. His comments were brief, but were expertly crafted to keep the momentum going.
“I AM KNOWN AS A DIRECTOR OF HORROR MOVIES,” he bellowed into the mic midway through the show. “I. LOVE. HORROR MOVIES. HORROR MOVIES WILL LAST…FOREVER.”
As the word forever echoed over the halls, Cody Carpenter, John’s son with Adrienne Barbeau and a brilliant musician in his own right, launched into the familiar, jarring 5/4 cadence of the title theme to Carpenter’s legendary Halloween. This movie, that I’ve literally send hundreds of times, took on new life with a power and intensity that only live music can convey. One could not help but wonder what it would be like to watch the entire film this way with the score played live by this band.
And speaking of his band, the lead guitarist, Dan Davies, is a bit of rock royalty himself. You might have heard of his dad before. His name was Dave Davies and he was in a little British band called THE KINKS! Davies talent seemed barely contained, his guitar an extension of his body, as he pushed the instrument from fear filled moan to terrified screams throughout the night. He is an undeniably brilliant successor to his father’s legacy and it’s no accident he is touring with Carpenter. The director happens to be his godfather.
The audience responded with their own shrieks and cheers as each number came to a close, equally thrilled by Carpenter’s film music and his new compositions. Standout pieces like “Wraith”, whose rhythmic raindrop melodic cadence expanded to a haunting and hellish Bolero before returning to its quiet beginnings, and “Vortex”, which engulfed the audience in swirling, primal colors of sound, prove just what a master of synthesized composition Carpenter can be. The beautiful “Purgatory” with its slow build from stark piano melodies to jazz and funk inspired rhythms with sweeping synthesized strings is one piece this writer will never forget.
It was a journey the audience was privileged to take with the composer filled with moments fans of Carpenter’s films will never forget: smoke machine fog filling the stage as the haunting overture to 1980s The Fog began and the vengeful spirits of the Elizabeth Dane slowly stalked onto the onstage screen, the frenzied rendition of music from In the Mouth of Madness as Sam Neill succumbed to the power of Sutter Caine’s words and Hobb’s End became of village of monsters, and Roddy Piper kicking ass to the music from They Live.
As the evening came to a close, Carpenter once more leaned into the microphone. He thanked us for coming to the concert, and implored us to be careful driving home from the Majestic because…Christine would be on the highway tonight. As he and the band concluded the final refrains from “Christine Attacks” from the classic killer car film, the audience rose to its feet as one to thank the man for the horror and the music once again.
I urge you readers. Take my advice and pick up a copy of Lost Themes and Lost Themes 2 today. Turn down the lights, turn on the music, and ride the wave that is the musical genius of one of horror’s finest auteurs. John Carpenter: writer, director, and yes, rock god.