By Joe McAdam
John Carpenter goddamn rules. He’s a wholly unique cultural figure and we’ll never get another John Carpenter. Appreciate him, cherish him, take care of John Carpenter. He’s doing good work and he’s doing it his own weird way. You’d think a guy who has directed at least five stone cold classic films would just keep making more and print money until he’s dead. Instead, at age 69, he’s hitting the road with a rock band.
The line curled outside of The Palladium was loaded with fans dressed in their favorite Carpenter movie costumes. There were a lot of Jack Burtons, a handful of Snake Plisskens, at least one Lo Pan. It was Halloween night, so it all checked out, but if I saw this at any other stop on the tour it would totally make sense to me. He inspires some real devotion.
Seeing the master of horror on Halloween (many consider it the scariest night of the year!) was something special. I don’t think I could ever forget hearing the piano riff to Halloween for the first time and immediately trying to figure out how to play it. I’d consider it about as perfect of a piece of music as there’s ever been in a movie and getting to witness it played by it’s composer on Halloween was something special.
That alone would have been enough for this show to be a success for me. Luckily John Carpenter isn’t treating his tour like some embarrassing Hollywood rock star fantasy played out by for vanity reasons. It’s a real celebration of his long history of finding the perfect music to tell his stories. For the entire show we were treated to video montages for his films while the themes played over them.
He opened with Escape from New York and people went nuts the second the video screen showed the intro graphic.
It’s hard not to feel transported back to the first time you saw his films every time this happens. It takes you back to wood paneled basements watching Christine on a crappy wood paneled TV. Every character’s moment that appears holds a special place in fans’ hearts. There were the obvious ones like Michael Myers covered in a bed sheet and glasses, or Roddy Piper and Keith David’s fist fight in They Live. Everyone has their favorites. Some guy near me was really psyched for the upside down crab walking lady from In the Mouth of Madness.
It wasn’t just the classics. Since 2015 Carpenter has released two albums worth of original movie themes that have no movies to go along with them, the best of which made it into his set. They hold the same charm and character that all his old music does too; simple structure, driving synths. You can tell Carpenter is still having creative peaks even at this stage in life. I’d imagine he’ll never direct a film again at this point, and I don’t blame him, it looks like a lot of work for for something you can guarantee people will say isn’t as good as his old stuff. But he’s still thinking in terms of mood and atmosphere and finding an outlet for it and I love it.
I’m very wary of the nostalgia train, but I’ll be god damned if John Carpenter’s work isn’t better than you remember it. His musical rebirth is a very conscious understanding of what makes him great. When he couldn’t find the right music for Halloween, he made it himself. When you don’t have the time and patience for directing a Hollywood movie? Take your son and his buddies on the road with you to jam out some old classics to thousands of fans. His best work is about simple solutions and this is no different. The band was all dressed in black, there was limited stage banter aside from a couple introductions and dropping in a Big Trouble quote (“Have ya paid your dues, Jack? Yessir, the check is in the mail.”) and the music was straightforward. During the score for The Fog there was a smoke machine. That’s about it. The whole night was a celebration of John Carpenter’s low-key genius, and it was perfect.
If you’re a massive fan, you’re going to see this show on tour no matter what. If you’re a casual fan, I highly recommend treating yourself to a rental of The Thing while you still have a little Halloween spirit left in your bones. If seeing Kurt Russell torch an alien in the snow doesn’t get you out the door to see this, I can’t help you.