For anyone who came of age during John Carpenter’s two decade reign over the horror landscape, his self-composed, lean and atmospheric synth-heavy scores were equally as memorable as any of his on-screen scares or gross-out moments.
While his productivity and quality has lapsed throughout the years, the music has burned forever brightly, so much so that the filmmaker has not one but two surprisingly accomplished recent albums of non-film recordings (entitled Lost Themes and Lost Themes II, respectively). Featuring a number of blistering tracks which would be fully worthy of cinematic use, it’s this work and his past soundtracks which have presumably spurred him on to give back to his adoring fans.
And what a tight group they are, ripping through the director’s back catalogue and cuts from the aforementioned standalone albums with real zeal and character, ensuring the nuance and beats from the original pieces are intact while catering to the almost mini stadium-sized audience of whooping and hollering fans. It’s telling that the weakest song of the night isn’t even Carpenter’s. Acknowledging the original composer Ennio Morricone, the subtle, brooding nature of the theme tune from The Thing is at odds with the heightened surroundings and as such isn’t able to transcend the original’s scope, meandering along during its brief appearance.
The pieces of music from Carpenter’s big-screen work are accompanied by corresponding film footage, projected behind the band and whizzing through each narrative in accordance to the song’s running times. While these tracks would work perfectly well without the visual support (as those from the Lost Themes albums adequately illustrate) it’s still a canny reminder of just what a creative force the director once was. One particular gag performed by all the band members as they dive into the swaggering guitar strains of They Live (I’ll let you guess what this might be) really raises the roof.
At a little under 90 minutes, it’s a zippy set but it never feels like any score or original recording has been shoehorned in to bulk it out a little, and the evening is all the better for this. “Horror movies will live for ever” Carpenter booms in an exaggerated manner as the haunting Halloween hook begins – easily his most iconic piece of score (and film, for that matter). Witnessing the surrounding, beaming audience members in complete thrall of their unlikely musical idol, it isn’t difficult to imagine that might turn out to be the case for his music, as well as his films.
John Carpenter’s tour continues tonight and tomorrow evening at the Troxy, London.