John Carpenter is a shameless cornball, a carnival huckster, an aging kook and a genius in our midst. There’s probably another director out there somewhere who’s scored scores of their own films, but I’m struggling to think of one who’s nailed it with such vision. I’m going to jettison all dull pretence of impartiality right now; I love John Carpenter. As he took to the stage of the Troxy on a cold Tuesday night I was fidgeting with glee. And as hoped, the man who directed and scored Halloween, Escape From New York, The Fog, Assault on Precinct 13, They Live and so many more, delivered in spades. With this kind of back catalogue to draw on, how could he not?
The band took to the stage. There was John Carpenter, front and centre with a single synth. He came with two guitarists, a bass player, a drummer, and his son Cody Carpenter encircled by a bank of synths over to the side. They kicked straight into Escape From New York theme, an ominous, sky-lining opener of proto-techno perfection. To put this track in perspective, Escape From New York came out a good six years before Hellraiser – a film where studio executives notoriously refused to use the synth soundtrack writer/director Clive Barker had commissioned from industrial act Coil because they thought it was ‘too weird’ – thankfully Carpenter had no such mithering holding him back.
Behind the band three large screens quick-cut through the viscerally gory highlights of EFNY, and, yes, it felt good. There’s big Snake Pliskin up on the screen with his ridiculous eye patch and knackered leathers and scars and perma-scowl and here’s this band playing a track that – by 1981 no less- has already worked out the essential musical form of the next two decades.
They follow up with Assault on Precinct 13 – a tune that is almost as influential on rave melodies as the Think breakbeat is on rave rhythms. At this point, I feel just about powerful enough to fight any fucker in the world, so I’m listening with a willing indulgence as Carpenter drops into a couple of new ones. And this does take a lick of indulgence, because John has discovered a love of goth sludge guitar that is less ‘amazing horror soundtracks’ and more Camden Purple Turtle on a Friday night. Do we need another guitar solo? Apparently we do.
This is only a minor blip, and more than made up for by Carpenter’s quality, utterly hammy stage show, which includes such deliciously over the top treats as flooding the stage with dry ice when they play The Fog, and – of course – donning a set of shades for the performance of They Live (which, for the record, is one of the wackest tunes he’s written; a crappy pub blues stroll. Still, this didn’t matter a moment when it was accompanied by the screens flashing up ‘CONSUME’ slogans from the film).
Over the hour and a bit, the depth of Carpenter’s catalogue was plain. From Halloween with its sinister time sequence (5/4? help me out here music theoreticians…), to a new one that I’ve merely got in my notes as ‘beatless disco for panty sniffing creeps’, the ghoulish chills and future shocks never let up. And whilst Carpenter himself was an ever entertaining presence, half avuncular uncle, half Cryptkeeper, the amazing synth lines were the true star of the show. And even if they were obscured by the occasional over enthusiastic guitar riffing, those one-fingered hypnotic melodies have lost none of their power. As near to essential as a show can get.