John Carpenter Live at the Royale

by Quentin Singer

I was 12 years old when I first saw John Carpenter’s The Thing, and needless to say I was utterly terrified. So scared of what had taken place on the TV, I became paranoid my family’s husky would turn into this alien-demon in the movie; and somehow devour me in the middle of the night. Although you won’t understand this reference if you haven’t seen the movie, it goes without further explaining the paranoia and angst that lies within this film. While John Carpenter created riveting horror and action movies like The Thing, Halloween, Escape From New York, etc., it’s not as widely known how impactful the scores in his films are. Writing much of his own material as well as having personal composers, the music that enriches Carpenter’s films is arguably some of the best thematic, horror, and character-based scoring in the last 40 years. Straying from more conventional type scoring, Carpenter was never one to include orchestral based music but is credited for his intuitive use of the synthesizer and rock music in film.

Given the simplistic instrumentation of his scores, it comes as no surprise to see Carpenter pursuing live performance. John and his son, along with a live rock band, completed their first U.S. tour celebrating the legacy of his films and music, and were effortlessly able to sell out shows during their run. Playing to a sea of energetic fans at the Royale, John and Co. gave an inspiring performance, reliving the themes to his iconic movies. Starting the show off with the pulsing and fist-pumping theme to Escape From New York, John was immediately greeted with an uproar of cheer and screams. Most the evenings set was an amalgamation of his horror and action movie scores, with the more notable songs being from Halloween, The Thing, They Live, and Christine. Wanting to experience the show as an avid fan, there was a couple concerns I had going in. They centered on the question of how is John going to captivate an audience for an hour and 15 minutes while only playing scores to his movies? This question made me nervous the show would be a bit of a letdown, because like I stated earlier, his work isn’t complex. While it may be catchy and effective in his films, his music isn’t something I envisioned seeing a live performance of.

With that being said, Carpenter went above and beyond my expectations. In addition to playing the music to his films, they managed to incorporate a giant TV screen that played the iconic movies along with their given themes. This made the show that much more entertaining, especially for Carpenter fans. Whenever an iconic scene or character entered, fans would explode with cheer like the actor/actress was literally there! It was easy to tell most of the audience was there to relive these beloved movies, but it also came as a welcoming surprise to see John break out tunes from his recent LP entitled “Lost Themes.” All the songs off this LP were made strictly from a musical standpoint, not for any film or visual experience, purely music. These tracks were unique from others played, expressing a more modern synthesis vibe; yet still reminiscent of the retro style John’s themes adhere to.

Seeing John Carpenter perform really put into perspective just how much an influence his work has had on modern-day media. Whether it’s TV shows like Stranger Things, or just the modern day horror movie genre, John’s work is repeatedly cited as a prominent influence. For those unfamiliar with his work, I highly encourage checking out his films along with his musical work on Spotify, especially if you in any way like modern day horror (absolutely check him out if you like Stranger Things). As far as John’s performance, I left the show feeling my inner Carpenter fanboy satisfied. However, I don’t see the appeal of these shows for anyone who isn’t considered a diehard fan or film score lover. That would be my only issue with the concert, but I don’t believe the show’s purpose was to cater to a wide audience, instead John’s loving fan base.