John Carpenter Was a Weird, Wonderful and Creepy Rock Star at Majestic

John Carpenter
Majestic Theatre, Dallas
Friday, June 24, 2016

John Carpenter's film scores weren't ever intended to be played live, but when the legendary director performed them at Majestic Theater Friday night, the result was better than anyone could have imagined. Carpenter scored most of the horror and science fiction films he directed, including classics from the ’70s and ’80s such as Halloween, They Live and Big Trouble in Little China. Now in his late 60s, he is touring with a band, and these themes are fleshed out, sounding better than they ever have before.

Carpenter’s music spans generations of fans, and on Friday the crowd ran the gamut from younger Comic-Con fans to older film buffs. But the vibe was ominous. Before the show started, creepy horror film music that became increasingly intense played until Carpenter and his band walked out. People went crazy, giving a standing ovation before a single note was played. Yet no one really knew what to expect.

Even then, reactions were staggered. Carpenter's music is inextricably linked with the films it was written for, and it was almost palpable when members of the audience hit on memories they associated with each composition. The ricocheted freak-outs were a big part of why the show was so awesome. Watching people cheer for kill scenes at a concert was also weird and wonderful.

But more than anything, this was about the way Carpenter did the damn thing with no half measures. He could have easily shown up with a laptop, keyboard, synth and a projector. But backed by his son Cody Carpenter on keys, a drummer, two guitarists and a bassist, this music sounded better than it ever has before. It was fleshed out for a band to play live, with many new textures as well as guitar and keyboard solos.

This was a visual spectacle, as well. The light show was elaborate and constantly shifting to adjust to the mood of the sounds and scenes, which were projected during the performances. A main screen was behind the band with other screens attached to all four sides, and the show usually made the most of it.

The show started with the main theme from Escape From New York. People went crazy when they heard the music starting and the sight of the Twin Towers still standing drew one of the largest responses of the night. Of course, it was awesome to see Kurt Russell as Snake Plissken running around with an eye patch. This is a classic film with a classic score.

During “Coming to L.A.” from They Live, the kill scenes and grotesque imagery from the film were surrounded by words like “Obey” and “Consume” appearing on the other screens. The image of the film’s star, pro wrestling legend Roddy Piper (who died less than a year ago), drew another intense reaction from the crowd. During the main theme from The Fog, scenes from the film played surrounded by those horrific red eyes of undead pirates in fog.

The flaws in this show were slight, and no one seemed to have any problems with any of them. It looked like the Majestic may have been too small to fully accommodate the bottom screen or even make use of it in some cases. But this wasn’t very detrimental to the performance. 

On several occasions, Carpenter said fans could expect 75 percent of the music to be from his soundtracks, with the remaining 25 percent devoted to his recent albums, Lost Themes I and II. But Carpenter played 17 tracks and 7 were from his albums. These songs are instantly recognizable as Carpenter compositions and, indeed, they could be from films that were not made. People seemed happy with the newer tracks, but they were mostly delivered two at a time. Less familiar sounds with no imagery on the screen undeniably made these chunks of the show feel underwhelming by comparison.

Carpenter, chewing gum with a grey ponytail and strutting — even dancing — through the show, only addressed the crowd a few times. “I make horror films!” he declared. “I love horror films. Horror films will live forever!” The crowd definitely agreed and the band launched into the Halloween theme. Michael Myers killed people at the Majestic while Carpenter and a badass band killed it on stage. The word “surreal” gets tossed around too much, but it was appropriate here.

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