The general colour worn was black [Michael Myers T-shirts optional] and males outnumbered females about four to one, though the numbers seemed more even in the standing/dancing area in front of the stage, and during the music the girls there seemed to be going for it more than the guys. The occasion was a film director performing some of the music he wrote for his films [and a bit of his album stuff – I mustn’t forget that], and I remain astonished – though pleasantly astonished – that his tour seems to be a sell out wherever it goes. Despite the fact that we seem to be going through a phase where his influence is very strong on some films, aside from movie [especially horror] fans of a certain vintage, is the name John Carpenter really that well known nowadays? You’d think his minimalist themes were widely known rock numbers considering the excitement which greeted the first few chords of each track played by Mr. Carpenter and the band he’d assembled. Or maybe there’s just a lot of horror movie lovers living in and near Bristol? In any case, there I was, waiting for the legendary director of Halloween, The Thing and In The Mouth Of Madness [well, that’s my top three, what’s yours?] to come on stage, and the atmosphere was electric, as if we waiting for Iron Maiden or something….and this is despite the horribly cramped seating of Colston Hall which barely gave you room to breath, let alone start grooving in your seat.
The man came on to great cheers, followed by his band consisting of his son Cody also on keyboard, his godson Daniel Davies alternating between keyboard and guitar, and Tenacious D’s John Spiker, John Konesky [both guitar] and Scott Seiver [drums, or rather electronic drum pad]. They immediately launched into Escape From New York, still one of his most memorable musical efforts, then followed it with Assault In Precinct 13 which is probably the simplest of all his themes but its repeated five note pattern is so catchy and I remember that I just couldn’t it out of my head the first time I saw the film. The two themes did sound a little different from the originals because they were played by a whole band rather than just on one synthesiser, which took me a while to get used to. Is it preferable if artists play music exactly in the form you’re familiar with, or is it better if they do something different and sometimes exciting with songs music you’ve heard countlessly in its original form? It’s a question I can’t really answer and I just tend to take it piece by piece, or song by song, depending on well it works. Then Carpenter presented himself and introduced two tracks from his Lost Themes album. Though most of the pieces, if still short, develop in a way the movie themes don’t do quite so often, these two still sound just like they come from Halloween 3 and Village Of The Damned [where his synth music was becoming lighter but with more complex note patterns].
Carpenter then said that he has: “mostly composed to scary movies, thrillers, science fiction, slasher tales …and ghost stories”, which took us into The Fog for which Davies switched over to keyboards and the full synth eeriness of the original theme was allowed to be heard. The blues jam that was They Live followed with Carpenter putting on some dark shades. Then came a piece which surprised me, The Thing, which of course Carpenter didn’t write, but he did give a shout out to: “Ennio Morricone, one of the great composers of cinema history” [remove “one of” , add “est” to “great”, then remove “s” from “composers” and he’s then got it right]. What’s interesting is how Morricone’s ominous piece is very much in the Carpenter fashion rather than in Morricone’s usual style. Then came Distant Dreams from Lost Dreams Vol. 2 and the Big Trouble In Little China-like track is probably the best one from that album [part of the fun of listening to both albums is pretending you’re hearing pieces from unmade Carpenter/Kurt Russell collaborations]. This was followed by the superb Big Trouble In Little China itself, possibly my favourite of all his themes….and was that the ‘Buddha finger’ gesture from the film that Carpenter was giving to the audience?
Two more Lost Dreams tracks – the fairly good Wraith with highly atmospheric twinkling note formations, and the ‘okay-ish’ Night – which did allow Davis his moment of glory on the guitar – followed before the man cried out “I make [shouldn’t that be “made”?] horror movies, I love horror movies, and horror movies will live forever” and we had Halloween, here with a heavy synthesised drum beat that virtually turned it into a rave track. I wasn’t entirely convinced, but it would sure be a dance floor filler at Halloween club nights and it drove the already loving-it crowd in front of the stage wild, which if I was there might well have happened for me when In The Mouth Of Madness, with its great heavy guitar riffs, came on. After a brief break, the encore consisted of the really moody theme from Prince Of Darkness, then Virtual Survivor from Lost Dreams Vol. 2 and Purgatory from Lost Themes which sounds like a rejected theme from Vampires. I would personally have preferred to hear a track from that movie instead, and then maybe one from Ghosts Of Mars, but it was John’s show, and it did finish in great style with Christine, the Christine Attacks cue being both a good score track and a fine rock piece.
And that was that, and to be honest I felt that it could have been longer. 75 minutes, even with no interval, is rather short, especially when you have people far older than Carpenter performing live and for a far greater duration, and that Cody actually played the more complex keyboard parts. On the other hand, the band was extremely tight throughout and the acoustic were excellent. The rear projection showing clips from each film as the corresponding piece was played [the Lost Themes tracks got nothing] was a mixed bag, not to mention being rather distracting at times. Sometimes the montages seemed edited to the music and really well put together, but in other cases they just seemed thrown together, and there was a heavy emphasis on gory effects footage – not that this seemed to bother many in the crowd, with actual cheers and claps greeting a couple of the most gruesome scenes from The Thing. Shot of the slogans from They Live were also recieved with excitement.The fairly low-key LED lighting did accentuate each track just enough, while for The Fog we got….fog.
In general it was a straight forward, ‘no bullshit’ gig, just like the man himself and his movies. It’s easy to feel sorry for Carpenter considering the way Hollywood seems intent on remaking all his films, and he seems to have lost his enthusiasm for making them himself, but watching him yesterday evening dancing away behind his keyboard, beckoning to the audience [while constantly chewing gum], he seemed like he was having the time of his life even though he’s been touring with this gig for some time now. God bless him. I wouldn’t quite say that Carpenter and company shook the pillars of heaven, but they sure rocked enough last night to make it a memorable and rather unique experience.