It’s difficult to think of a better way to spend Halloween weekend other than watching a headline performance by ‘The Master of Horror’ John Carpenter at the historic Olympia during Liverpool Music Week. The influential film-maker has created some of the most iconic movies in the genres of horror, thriller, action and science fiction over the past 40 years, with his artistic high point coming during the late 1970s and 1980s.
Not only has he written and directed classic films such as ‘Halloween’ and ‘They Live’, he’s also composed scores for many of his own productions, a number of which have become pretty iconic themselves. An early adopter of synths because of they allowed to him to create music with a big sound, his compositions have also had a major influence on electronic artists over the past four decades.
In recent years, thanks in part to reissues of his soundtracks by the Death Waltz Recording Company, there has been a renewed interest in his compositions, which have led to the release of two stand-alone solo albums, 2015’s ‘Lost Themes’ and 2016’s ‘Lost Themes II’. No longer as active in the movie industry as he once was, recent interest in his scores has inspired John Carpenter to takes his compositions out on the road in the United States and Europe.
Despite being billed as ‘The Master of Horror’, his shows aren’t all about giving his audience a sleepless night, being more like a trip down memory lane for those who grew up with his work. His largely synth-led compositions, featuring the addition of guitars on stage, are simple yet effective, supplemented by a backdrop playing clips of classic scenes from his most famous films.
Joined on stage by a five-piece band which included his son Cody Carpenter and his godson Daniel Davies, the set kicked off with the main themes from two of his early action efforts, ‘Escape From New York’ and ‘Assault on Precinct 13’. The expression of delight on the face of the 68-year-old John Carpenter as he played the main synth line from ‘Assault on Precinct 13’ created one of the most memorable moments of the evening. A sign that he’s clearly been enjoying his new role as a touring musician.
As well as playing main themes from his other films like ‘The Fog’ and ‘The Thing’, the latter originally composed by the great Ennio Morricone, John Carpenter also performed a selection of tracks from his recent ‘Lost Themes’ albums. The ominous synths of ‘Night’ being a particular highlight, accompanied by a menacing guitar which further added to the oppressive feel of the piece.
When playing work from his Lost Themes releases, the classic clips of his films were replaced by a more minimalist backdrop. Given that the films and compositions of John Carpenter have such a symbiotic relationship, the audience were effectively being asked to fill in the blank spaces using their own imaginations during tracks such as ‘Vortex’ and ‘Distant Dream’.
The guitar-led ‘Coming to L.A.’ from his late 80’s political sci-fi classic ‘They Live’ was a sure-fire crowd-pleaser, with John Carpenter briefly pausing during the introduction to slip on a pair of dark sunglasses like those worn in the film by its lead actor, the late Rowdy Roddy Piper. Among the greatest cult movies of all time, you’d find very few arguments against it at least being the visual highlight of the evening.
However, it was the main theme from ‘Halloween’ which ultimately stole the show. Everyone knew exactly what was coming when John Carpenter announced: “I LOVE horror! Horror movies will live forever!” Led by its simple yet powerful piano melody, the music from ‘Halloween’ is as iconic as the film itself, being accompanied by unforgettable scenes including when Michael pins Bob to the door with a kitchen knife before he observes him dying. It really is an audio-visual experience like no other.