John Carpenter may be better known as the director of such cult classics as “Halloween”, “The Fog” or “Escape From New-York”, but he is also an accomplished musician who has provided the musical scores to most of his films. While he’s been inactive as a filmmaker recently, his musical output hasn’t lagged, with the release of two solo albums, “Lost Themes I & II” which he called “music for the movies in your head”.
With these additions to his repertoire, he decided it was time to get a band together (with his son Cody) and take the music on the road. And last night he brought his “Anthology” tour to the Metropolis MTELUS in Montreal. (I’ll keep calling it the Metropolis until my future grand-children start making fun of me)
The band walked on stage at 8 sharp, with the bandleader needlessly announcing “Hi, I’m John Carpenter”. The first track up was the classic theme to “Escape From New-York”, and film footage was shown on the big screen behind the band. As images of Snake Plissken were greeted with cheers, it became obvious that something was wrong and the band was off. Carpenter’s keyboard seemed to be routed through a delay effect, making his parts come in a little late and throwing off the band. “We’re having some technical difficulties” he announced after the song. A stage technician quickly fixed the problem and the band launched into one of my favourite tracks, the theme to his directorial début “Assault on a Precinct 13”. Now the band was cooking.
“Village of the Damned” and “The Fog” are next, and by that time I’m debating calling in sick the next day to do a Carpenter movie marathon, as images of these cult classics go by. Then a pair of tracks from “Lost Themes”, and it’s amazing how much they sound like his classic movie themes. The simplicity of the arrangements, the ostinato elements and the retro synth sounds are all there, and you want to close your eyes and imagine new worlds, villains and heroes to go along with the music.
Carpenter doesn’t play the rock star, and he doesn’t say much, letting the music do the talking. They launch into ”They Live”’s bluesy theme next, with Carpenter putting on dark shades in a nod to his film hero. The crowd cheered loudly when ‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper appeared on screen, and the film’s theme of population manipulation rings unfortunately very true these days. And by the way, if you haven’t seen these movies (you should), spoiler galore at the concert!
The next two tracks are oddities in Carpenter’s opus: two themes to his movies that were written by other composers. The theme to “Starman” (“my only love story”) by Jack Nitzsche is grandiose and slightly corny, but it fits the movie well, and “The Thing”, by legendary maestro Ennio Morricone lets the band stretch into more dissonant territory.
Interspersed with a duo of tracks from “Lost Themes”, the last stretch of the show offers “Pork Chop Express” from “Big Trouble in Little China”, the classic “Halloween”, played here with more bite and urgency than the original bit to great effect, before closing with “In the Mouth of Madness”, his homage to H.P. Lovecraft.
Back for the encore, we get tracks from “Body Bags”, the underrated “Vampires”, “Prince of a Darkness” before ending with “Plymouth Fury” from “Christine”.
That’s when I glance at my watch and realize the show barely lasted 75 minutes. At least it covered all the highlights from his career in a satisfying way. It would have been nice to get an extra 20 minutes since many secondary themes were ignored, but the concert really held up well as a cohesive entity, so really, it’s hard to complain.
An item scratched off the bucket list for me.