I bought a ticket for this show on the cold February day on which they first became available, and I’m pretty surprised that they didn’t sell out immediately. I’m not even positive that they were sold out on the day of the show, although there was a guy out front brandishing a sign that read, “I need a ticket”, so either they were sold out or sign guy was misinformed.
I have long been a fan of John Carpenter’s films and scores. They don’t quite hold the same place in my heart as the works of Dario Argento and Goblin, not to mention the haunting scores of Fabio Frizzi, but nonetheless, I wasn’t going to miss a chance to attend this show.
The ride north was the usual Friday snarled traffic hell. At one point, a car cut over to the shoulder from one of the middle lanes and a guy leapt out to pee. How classy. I was passed by countless lane-splitting motorcycles, which is fine, except for the one motorcyclist who didn’t successfully navigate his way northward and ending up spilling himself onto the asphalt. It made the traffic even slower. By the time I passed, his motorcycle was still in the lane and he was standing bloodily by the center divider while the CHP officiously tried to help remedy the situation.
I finally sank into my seat at The Fox around two hours after I left home. At least there wasn’t a long wait before the show got started.
What unfolded was a glorious celebration of some of the films that helped define my childhood, as well as a selection of tracks from the two most recent John Carpenter albums (his first two with no accompanying visuals), “Lost Themes” and “Lost Themes II”.
First up was the theme to “Escape From New York”, with a montage of scenes from the film in the background. The five piece band (Carpenter center stage, with his son Cody on lead keyboards stage right, godson Daniel Davies stage left, plus another guitarist, a bassist, and a drummer) added some volume and grit to the music, making this seem very much like a rock concert despite the fact that it was a seated show.
Next up was “Assault on Precinct 13”, which I haven’t actually seen. Despite being the composer, John Carpenter took a back seat to his son. I remember reading an interview in the last year or so where Carpenter the Elder stated that his son is the superior keyboard player, which goes a long way toward explaining this. Hearing the old scores alongside the newer pieces was interesting. The new albums are entities unto themselves, and it showed. The songs seem more fully realized. Not that I’m for even one minute discounting the power of the older pieces, of course. Many of them, like the “Halloween” theme, are so iconic that they’re part of the cultural consciousness. I remember working out how to play a somewhat awkward version of it on the piano back when I worked at the Children’s Discovery Museum in San Jose. The piano was part of the Mr. Rogers Neighborhood exhibit, so it was a completely inappropriate piece of music for me to be playing there. The point is, people recognized and reacted to it, despite my inept rendering. Like I said, iconic.
The biggest surprise of the evening was a splendid cover version of Ennio Morricone’s haunting theme for Carpenter’s “The Thing”. I also really enjoyed a trip down memory lane to “They Live”, and now find myself wanting to re-watch it.
Witnessing the “Halloween” theme being performed live was another highlight, of course. Despite (or maybe because of) its simplicity, it’s an incredibly powerful piece of music.
There was an encore, of course, and toward the end, Carpenter told the audience to be careful on the way home, and just as I was thinking that this was very thoughtful of him, he continued with “…because Christine is out there”, and the band launched into Christine Attacks (Plymouth Fury) from Carpenter’s film version of the Stephen King story. Maybe that explains the motorcycle accident I saw on the way to the show.
Or maybe not.
I’m glad that I got to see this music performed live, both the long-familiar soundtracks and the newer music. The new music and working with new collaborators seems to have revitalized John Carpenter, and it’s great to see him taking this show on the road. Plus, for me, it was the second show in a row where I got to see a parent/child combination. Maybe the family bands are coming back.
On the way home, I saw no accidents. There were fireworks over by the Oakland stadium though.