Like his movies, John Carpenter’s music will be anathema to non-fans. However to those who are in the know, or who just love synth music, this is probably the best gig they’ve ever seen.
Over ninety minutes Carpenter delves deep into his back catalogue, with cuts from some of his most famous soundtracks, recently remastered in the definitive Anthology: Movie Themes 1974 – 1988. These are bolstered by some cuts from his recent forays into solo work (with support from his son & godson) on Lost Themes and it’s sequel.
What strikes you is the fact that these songs are inherently the same. They share the same very basic structures. Yet Carpenter is able to take these simple melodies and amplify them layer by layer, vamping them up into epic soundscapes.
There is range too, despite the narrow constraints. The show opens with the bombastic Escape From New York theme, which gives each section – keys / guitars / drums – a chance to shine. Yet this sci-fi grandeur is nothing like the creeping mystery of The Fog, nor the cheesball riffs of Big Trouble in Little China.
Carpenter’s banter with the audience is warmly received and never bogs down the set. His huckster, affected delivery is perfect, and he knows his role as a showman when he credits the swooning Starman theme (“My only love story“) to the ladies of Newcastle.
The set dressing is simple but effective – with screens showing cuts from the corresponding movies (though slightly shrouded from view in the upper levels). There is some flair on display for sure. The creeping layer of fog preceding, you guessed it, the theme from The Fog may be obvious, but no less effective. Even better is when the band delay the opening to the theme from They Live to put on their sunglasses – a reference to the subliminal mind-control for which the cult movie is famed.
While the best performance all night is undoubtedly the underrated Assault From Precinct 13 theme and Carpenter’s solo composition ‘Vortex’, the best received is of course the Halloween excerpts. A cut from the new Carpenter soundtrack is headed off by a no-holds-barred rendition of the iconic ‘Halloween’ theme, which is the closest this gig gets to a ‘Freebird’ moment.
While Carpenter may consider his soundtracks a side-gig, this packed out venue suggests differently. This was a fantastic, fantastic show, and we’d love to see the Master again.