One could make the argument that John Carpenter’s second career is more impressive than his first.
At 69, the Halloween and They Live filmmaker is still drawing crowds—only these fans want to see the revered “Master of Horror” onstage rather than watch his movies on-screen.
Kicking off his Anthology tour at The Joint inside the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino on October 29, Carpenter carried the energy and enthusiasm of a much younger performer as he manned his keyboard, standing throughout his hour-plus show as fans sat comfortably on the floor.
They could have stood. They would have stood.
While it wasn’t sold-out—possibly because of the show’s Sunday-night start, an epic World Series game or Las Vegas’ post–Jay-Z hangover—the Cult of Carpenter rallied for their hero, with many arriving in costume to celebrate the season and pay tribute to his most famous films.
One fan donned a blue mechanic’s jumpsuit with a Michael Myers mask, while several were spotted in Halloween and Escape From New York shirts. By far, the most impressive was a woman in full They Live alien makeup.
Fans know Carpenter’s films front to back, and as he took the stage—flanked by his band—the crowd roared at the first chords of 1981’s Escape From New York theme.
As they’ve done in previous shows, Carpenter’s band performs in front of a screen projecting scenes from his films. While this can be somewhat distracting—you often end up watching the movie instead of the band—it created some memorable moments, such as the round of applause during the They Live performance when the late Roddy Piper’s character appeared on-screen, going to war with a bank full of aliens in human disguise.
“I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass, and I’m all out of bubblegum,” shouted a fan, quoting Piper’s hero.
After taking a moment to acknowledge the crowd, Carpenter and company launched into the themes for his Village of the Damned remake and The Fog, before shifting to two tracks from his 2015 Lost Themes album. Described by the filmmaker as the soundtrack to “the movies in your mind,” Lost Themes and its 2016 sequel are largely credited for inspiring Carpenter’s new career, one in which he is largely committed to making music and letting someone else take the directing reins—the most obvious example being the next Halloween film, which he will score but will be directed by David Gordon Green.
In a career that spans more than 40 years, Carpenter earned a reputation as a filmmaker who does much more than sit behind the camera. Scoring his own films was done out of necessity in his early days, simply because there was no money to hire a composer. It did happen on rare occasions, and halfway through the show, Carpenter paid tribute to Jack Nitzsche and Ennio Morricone, who composed the themes to Starman and The Thing, respectively.
This show could have been Carpenter solo, just the man working his synthesizer with the projection behind him. Adding the drums, guitar, bass and Carpenter’s son Cody on keyboard, it turned what would have been a small-venue performance for a very niche audience into a rock concert. Even if you’re not familiar with Carpenter’s filmography, certain tracks (like the classic Halloween theme) get in your head. Carpenter is also blessed to have a kick-ass lead guitarist in godson Daniel Davies. The British musician, whose father, Dave Davies, played guitar for The Kinks, is afforded numerous opportunities to show off his skills, notably on tracks from Big Trouble in Little China and In the Mouth of Madness.
For an encore, Carpenter pulled out a little surprise: the theme music from 1993’s Body Bags, a Showtime horror anthology that he co-directed and scored. Only hard-core fans would recognize that theme, but this was a hard-core crowd, and they did.
After playing tracks from John Carpenter’s Vampires and Prince of Darkness, the filmmaker took the microphone one last time to address the crowd.
“Please drive carefully going home. Christine is out there!” he said to cheers, before launching into the night’s final track, a revamped version of the theme from his 1983 adaptation of Stephen King’s killer-car novel, Christine.
The four-minute track is one of the longer ones on Carpenter’s new Anthology: Movie Themes 1974–1998 album. The run time is worth noting because I had wondered how Carpenter could fill an entire show with themes that average about three minutes each. He pulled it off, covering the entire album, leaving out just the theme from his first film, Dark Star.
As a kickoff to a new tour, the show is a success. Carpenter and his band are now on the road, with North American dates scheduled through November 19. There’s no question that fans who love his work will turn out if he’s in or near their towns.
But if I could make one request, it would be to hear the other theme from Big Trouble in Little China.
Photos by Brenton Ho / Kabik Photo Group
- Escape From New York
- They Live
- Village of the Damned
- The Fog
- Vortex (from Lost Themes)
- Mystery (from Lost Themes)
- Assault on Precinct 13
- Starman (composed by Jack Nitzsche)
- The Thing (composed by Ennio Morricone)
- Distant Dream (from Lost Themes II)
- Porkchop Express (from Big Trouble in Little China)
- Wraith (from Lost Themes)
- In the Mouth of Madness
- Body Bags
- Santiago (from John Carpenter’s Vampires)
- Prince of Darkness