I was originally going to see John Carpenter perform in Detroit. I spent money that I didn’t have on a VIP ticket that included early entry, a backstage tour, and signed merchandise. When I ended up seeing him perform in Boston instead, this time with a general admission ticket, the only thing I envied about the (many) others in line that had VIP tickets was the early entry.
Because it was cold outside. Cold to the point where my feet were going numb by the time the rest of us general admissions were allowed inside. But when I was finally allowed inside the Royale, a venue I’ve been to a couple of times, it was worth it.
I ended up seeing John Carpenter in Boston instead of Detroit because of a sudden death in the family that necessitated changing my concert plans. The funeral was the same day of the Detroit performance. The Boston performance was five days after the funeral. I will fully admit to not being the best when it comes to grieving, and the combination of losing a close family member along with some other not-great developments in my life led to me doing what I seem to always do when I’m a mess: I latched on to something nerdy for relief. In this case, it was seeing John Carpenter perform.
This past summer, I did a proper deep dive into Carpenter’s filmography, having only seen a few of his movies before. I love how straightforward and well-composed his films are, both visually and musically. Straightforward isn’t meant to imply that all of his films are predictable or classical. It means that there isn’t a film of Carpenter’s that tries to hide what its genre or tone is. And usually, Carpenter’s films establish their tone with the music he composes or co-composes for them. Most people know the theme from Halloween, but there are so many more gems in his body of composing work.
There’s the ominous blues of They Live, the lyrical dread of The Fog, the rocking swagger of Big Trouble in Little China, or the slowly building menace of Escape from New York. Every one of his films’ identities are hyperlinked to the themes he writes for them. Listening to any of these themes gives you a perfect musical representation of what you are in for when you watch whichever movie the theme is from. My personal favorite movie and theme of Carpenter’s is In the Mouth of Madness, a Stephen King/H.P. Lovecraft-inspired tale whose main theme is a ridiculously awesome guitar-centric piece, with an interlude of ambient horror thrown in the middle.
The last time that Carpenter composed for a movie was in 2001 for his own Ghosts of Mars. After that, he directed one other movie in 2010 called The Ward, and then seemed to go into retirement. Then a couple years ago, Carpenter teamed up with his son, Cody, and godson, Daniel Davies, to begin composing and performing music again. The trio released two albums, Lost Themes and Lost Themes II, described as music for the movies in your imagination.
The music on both of those albums are of the same style as Carpenter’s scores. Beautiful, menacing, and distinct, with an emphasis on synthesizers. The trio went on tour not long after the albums’ releases, but by the time I had become a fan of Carpenter and his music, that tour had long since ended. Until Carpenter surprise-announced a new album, Anthology, that would contain new versions of most of his movie themes. And an accompanying tour. The timing could not have been better.
Inside the Royale, the stage was set up with screens on the left and right, along with one behind the drum set onstage. When it was time for the performance to start, there was no opener, no announcer, just the lights going down. Then Carpenter and the band walked onstage, and began to play Escape from New York.
As the song started and the audience cheered, Carpenter made something crystal clear as soon as he was center stage in front of his keyboard: he was having the time of his life. He was happily march-dancing to the beginning build of the song before the time came for him to play the melody. As he started, the surrounding screens began to play clips from the movie, and continued to do so for every movie theme that was played that night.
Occasionally in between songs, Carpenter would talk to the audience, usually to introduce the next song. One of my favorite moments was when he said how lovely a night it was, that it seemed that love was in the air, and that love lasts forever and will never leave you. And then he and the band played the Halloween theme.
When they played the theme from The Fog, halfway through the song, the fog machines were turned on, surrounding the band.
And before the last song of the encore, Carpenter encouraged everyone in the audience to be careful driving home because the possessed car “Christine” was out there. Which was of course followed by the theme from Christine.
That kind of humor, along with the very evident camaraderie between all of the players, contributed to how much goddamn fun this performance was. The audience I saw this with was comprised of a surprisingly wide range of ages. I was honestly expecting an older crowd, given Carpenter’s more cult-ish following. But there were a decent number of twenty-somethings there, along with one pre-teen kid who was super excited to be there.
The point is that, like Carpenter said, love was in the air. Love for Carpenter, his movies, and his music. And to be around such unadulterated joy was pretty nice.
The closest thing I have to a complaint was that the concert was less than an hour and half. But I was fortunate enough to see one of my favorite directors and composers perform their music live. And with the kind of year I’m having… hell, with the kind of year the world is having, it was great to be surrounded by people just happy to be present to see this artist perform, even just for an hour and a half.
For some great photos of the concert, check out Ben Stas’ report on the performance here.