The sun remained intense on an early evening in suburban Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania recently as folks strolled about in the summer heat. At the same time something dark, sinister, and luring was brewing inside the historic Carnegie Library Music Hall of Homestead. Admirers of horror icon John Carpenter were gathering to celebrate the music of this auteur of fantasy cinema. John Carpenter truly is an auteur…he has implanted his artistic vision over a vast spectrum of the genre…and for the first time in his career he is performing his music live on stage with an ambitious world tour. John Carpenter originally composed the soundtracks for many of his classic films, often times in collaboration with Alan Howarth. His band made a welcomed stop in Pittsburgh on July 10 and one could witness the love between fans and the renowned writer, producer, director, and musician.
John Carpenter stands apart from many other filmmakers of his generation. The reason is clear. He is one of us. Carpenter has always retained a reputation of being accessible and close to genre fans. During his performance, he looked into the audience and proudly said, “I love horror films…horror films will live forever!” Carpenter, as many of us, has always embraced the entire world of fantasy. In his introduction to the theme from The Fog (1980), he announced, “I’ve made science fiction films, thrillers, horror, and also…ghost stories.” This was a definite highlight, especially for folks in the front rows, who were enveloped in hauntingly blue light and fog from the stage.
This was clearly John Carpenter-the musician. The crowd was ecstatic as he opened with selections from Escape from New York (1981) and Assault on Precinct 13 (1976). Fronting the stage with his keyboard, the soundtrack memories continued with music from They Live (1988), Prince of Darkness (1987), and In the Mouth of Madness (1994). As he mentioned making five movies with good friend Kurt Russell, Carpenter added, as an intro to Big Trouble in Little China (1986), “…we never had as much fun as when we were searching for a girl with green eyes.”
Beyond the music, these concerts are an extreme visual treat. A screen behind the performers continually displays scenes from the films as the music plays…and many clips were edited in the actual movie timeline from intro to ending…which flowed perfectly with the live accompaniment. The crowd went wild as Carpenter revisited his iconic main theme from Halloween (1978) as the image of Michael Myers graced the background.
Film scores are not the only presentation material at these concerts. John Carpenter has recently recorded two successful albums of similarly dark music, titled Lost Themes (2015) and Lost Themes II (2016), released on Sacred Bones Records. These original compositions, although not linked to any particular film, still convey the feeling of foreboding menace within the audience’s imagination. Needless to say they enthusiastically absorbed the newer offerings including “Vortex” (Lost Themes), and “Distant Dream” (Lost Themes II). These recent projects are not only a thrill for longtime genre fans, but for music enthusiasts in general. Artistically the new tracks rise to the occasion, and have helped propel Carpenter into the realm of live concerts.
The band itself delivers an extraordinarily tight sound. Joining John Carpenter on stage is his son Cody Carpenter on lead synthesizer, and his godson Daniel Davies (son of Dave Davies of The Kinks) on lead guitar. Davies took the spotlight as he performed the track “Night” from Lost Themes. Rounding out the band is John Konesky on guitar, John Spiker on bass, and Scott Seiver on drums. Cody Carpenter and Daniel Davies also were co-composers, performers, and engineers on the Lost Themes I and II recording sessions. The band presents a nice mix of classic movie themes with the newer material sprinkled in. It most definitely delivers for the fans.
In 1982 John Carpenter created a modern day science fiction classic with a brilliant interpretation of The Thing. The film, based on the novella Who Goes There? by author John W. Campbell, Jr., was an updated version of the story following the 1951 Howard Hawks effort (1972’s Horror Express has been considered a loose adaptation). Unlike his other films of that era, Carpenter did not compose the soundtrack. Ennio Morricone, the legendary Italian composer, was responsible for the memorable score that fit perfectly with the bleak, cold environs that define The Thing. John Carpenter paid proper tribute to Morricone at the concert with a fine rendition of the composer’s theme. As the evening came to a close, the encore included an intense performance from 1983’s Christine. With the 1958 Plymouth Fury bursting into flames on the screen as a fitting end to the concert, Carpenter smiled and wished everyone a safe drive home.
Pittsburgh is no stranger to the realm of horror fandom. There exists a huge fan base in the city and the outpouring of love and admiration from the crowd was absolutely contagious! Sighted in the audience were some very special celebrities who also happen to be huge John Carpenter fans. Guns N Roses guitarist Slash attended the performance, as his own band was scheduled to play in the area two days later. Special make-up effects maestro Greg Nicotero was also in the crowd. Nicotero’s resume extends from 1985’s Day of the Dead up to current work on AMC’s The Walking Dead series. Tom Atkins was another surprise attendee at the show. Atkins is a veteran actor who has worked on numerous Carpenter projects such as The Fog, Escape from New York, and Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982). The latter film was produced and musically scored by Carpenter but was written and directed by Tommy Lee Wallace. Atkins was born in Pittsburgh and maintains a residence there. He was a complete joy for fans as he mingled and chatted happily after the performance.
“John Carpenter: Live Retrospective 2016” began touring in May with an appearance in Los Angeles. In addition to the dates in the United States, a European tour is scheduled throughout autumn. John Carpenter has always held a special place in the hearts of his fans. The opportunity to finally witness this multi-talented artist perform live is an event surely not to be missed!