John Carpenter – Live Retrospective, 25 October 2016

Vicar St Dublin, Ireland

Tuesday 25th October 2016

Film auteur and composer extraordinaire John Carpenter has been a big part of my life for years, his fantastic films and their soundtracks providing a visual and audio accompaniment to my life, and I have to say, the sheer amount of happiness and entertainment his work has brought into my life I will always be grateful for.

So, when I discovered that John Carpenter was not only playing live, but playing here in Ireland, I was delighted, but also apprehensive: what if he couldn’t live up to my and others’ expectations? After all, the weight of decades of outstanding films and music weighs heavy on the great man’s shoulders!

Thankfully, the wittily titled ‘Live Retrospective’ show not only lived up to everyone’s expectations but exceeded them… hey, it’s all in the reflexes!

Firstly, I have to say I have never seen a more happy, friendly or harmonious crowd at a concert; it was a great revelation, a splendid and uplifting experience.

Secondly, to his obvious delight, musically, now is truly John Carpenter’s time (he is no longer a ‘man born out of time.’) With fine bands like Zombi and Survive taking so many musical cues from him, he truly has inspired an entire genre of music. I dub it ‘Carpenter-core’, but you can call it what you will, it’s mind-expanding, explores the emotions like a vortex, and truly takes you out of the everyday word into an extraordinary world, it’s the world of Jack Burton, Nada, McCreedy and Snake Plissken, it’s in Panavsion, it’s dangerous, it’s fun, it’s a hell of a ride and at the end, you know it will leave you better prepared to deal with this world, metaphorically, you’ll be wearing your sunglasses!

This concert is not John Carpenter triggering keyboards, rather it is a killer six-piece band of virtuoso musicians including John’s son Cody on lead keyboards, and his godson Daniel Davies on guitar. It’s not just the skill they apply live but the warm analogue feel of the music and the obvious joy they have in playing it and the friendly chemistry they have with each other, all six have a collective humble: ‘Wow! They actually love us’ vibe. Nice to see and feel!

The audience erupts at the sight of their hero, and he is the coolest man in the room, a natural front man, and one with more than a touch of his widescreen heroes to him. He is treated like the second coming of another fellow whose initials are J.C.!

Looking fit and full of energy, John turns out to be a warm and engaging host, and very much just caught up in the fun of the moment, a confident man, literally rocking to his own beat. We all knew he was cool, but all this time, the man is revealed as a rock star!

The band opens their set with the sonic pulse of the main theme of Escape From New York, my all-time favourite film, which I’ve always felt to be a futuristic riff on Ennio Morricone’s spaghetti western themes. Words fail me here, simply one of the best moments in my life.

Providing the icing on what is already the best cake you’ve ever eaten, a huge Panavision backdrop shows scenes from Escape From New York as it was always intended to be seen…a n utter revelation. I would suggest to John Carpenter that when he tours again, he does an entire soundtrack along with the respective film. But it is truly amazing, seeing Snake Plissken escape from New York with his creator performing the soundtrack, a real Sutter Kane moment!

Speaking of Morricone, the band play the main theme from The Thing to the audience’s delight, again seeing those images on the big screen is incredible. I’d love to see more of John’s films on the big screen where they belong.

Prince of Darkness totally fits the Halloween mood in Dublin tonight, a clever and genuine scary film with a great theme. One of my highlights… one of everyone’s… one of many! As was the theme from The Fog, it just made me want to see the film again, and having recently bought a widescreen special edition I certainly will.

Halloween itself of course goes down a storm; it must be as well known as they film itself (and the clips get a huge cheer! Truly great to see Jamie Lee, the late great Donald Pleasence, and of course ‘The Shape’, played here by Escape From New York co-writer Nick Castle).

When John Carpenter puts on sunglasses and starts chewing bubblegum, we know we’re going to get the theme from the mighty They Live live even before we see a single image of the much missed Rowdy Roddy Piper as Nada (incidentally the fight scene was inspired by The Quiet Man filmed in Ireland so in a sense it was returning home to it’s land of inspiration). The urban blues of this works so well live.

As does the theme from In The Mouth of Madness, which manages to out-Metallica Metallica, and Daniel distinguishes himself by playing one of the best guitar solos I’ve ever heard. Absolutely awesome; name any great rock ‘n’ roll band and they would shame them, the John Carpenter band just have this analogue sincerity, a joy of playing that the audience picks up on.

I absolutely loved the way John introduced the immortal theme from one of the greatest 80s films Big Trouble in Little China: “I did five films with a very good friend of mine [who could he mean? And let’s hope they make more] and this is the one we had the most fun on.”

Again, it’s a rocky track and the band play it superbly, but always those immortal synth sounds from John and Cody let you know you could be hearing no one (nada!) else!

And speaking of music that no one else could create, John shows he has as much invested in his future as his past, with the tracks from Lost Themes and Lost Themes II going down as well as the widescreen classics.

For example, as I said in a review at the time, ‘Vortex’ from Lost Themes is superb, standing in line with any previous theme of his; in fact, your mind conjures up amazing cinematic images to match the music… a new Snake Plissken film? A sequel to The Thing? ‘Vortex’ places them right into your mind’s eye. The audience receives it so well, you can see there’s a great market for John’s music both live and on vinyl.

With a superb encore of the theme from Christine, and a witty introduction from John – “If you’re driving home tonight, be careful, Christine is out there” the night ends… but the happy memories won’t.

John Carpenter came across as a great talent, a great front man, with a great band, and overall a humble man, happy and I think astonished and grateful to be so well-received and appreciated by the Irish. I sincerely hope he comes back again… he’s assured of rapturous reception when he does.

Steve Earles is author and co-author of numerous projects, including To End All Wars: The WWI Graphic Anthology, available summer 2014 (