And on Keyboards, John Carpenter!

Horror master successfully re-tunes his career

“I direct horror movies. I love horror movies. Horror movies will live forever.” At 68, John Carpenter could stay home in Los Angeles and live off memories of an unmatched career as a terror auteur. Instead, he commanded the ACL Live at the Moody Theater stage on Thursday night as a born again rock legend.

Carpenter and company opening with the main theme to Escape From New York (Photo by John Anderson)

Starman: John Carpenter (Photo by John Anderson)

Ridiculous as it may seem, this second stage of his creative arc proved far more than a novelty act. As his own composer, Carpenter played the instantly recognizable themes to most of his movies. The 80-minute set to an ecstatic audience demonstrated his skills as an unlikely frontman.

Bookending the hourlong main set with the one-two punch of the Escape From New York and Assault on Precinct 13 themes (sorry Dark Star fans, no “Benson, Arizona”) on through to 1994’s In the Mouth of Madness, Carpenter looked at home onstage. Standing out front of a backdrop designed to look like a giant camera hood, which stared out at the audience as clips from his filmography were projected upon it, he allowed some swagger, a little old man shoulder boogie. There was even a wry grin when he donned those all-important shades for a taste of his most politically subversive work, 1988’s They Live. The only applause matching those for the horror master arrived with the first shot of its star, the late, great Roddy Piper.

Carpenter’s classic Casio keyboard tinkle sounded front and center, of course, dueling with the keyboard setup of his son Cody, who stood a few feet away at stage left. The younger created the layers, while the elder often hung back, taking charge of the refrains he crafted and looking ridiculously cool doing it. He wasn’t angling for omnipresence, but achieved it nonetheless.

Carpenter’s sonic signature has always been simplicity, like the staccato trill of the Halloween theme. Yet that iconic track, so skeletal on celluloid, was re-created as a roaring, slithering, post-rock nightmare, in no small part due to another part of the filmmaker’s extended family, Daniel Davies – son of the Kinks’ Dave Davies – on lead guitar. Having swiped Tenacious D’s backline, John Spiker on bass, John Konesky on rhythm guitar, and drummer Scott Seiver, Carpenter carved a new version of his cinematic Mt. Rushmore, revving the stone cutters to tooth-rattling intensity.

Inevitably, the crowd ate it up. That could’ve meant a polite but disinterested reception for tracks from his two recent albums of soundtracks for films that never existed. Instead, the Lost Themes series felt like Carpenter spreading his dark wings to engulf a heavier, darker, more expansive sound. Even elements of ambient rock seeped in with “Mystery” and the Davies-driven “Night,” a slow call-and-response build.

For those cinematic siren songs, the live arena served as a rebirth, a re-emphasis excising any visuals in service to the music. It proved that Carpenter’s new compositions, with their nods to Goblin, Giorgio Moroder, and Jeff Lynne, can command a concert stage like his films dominate the silver screen. Plus, it proved that he’s not too old to get his rock on.

“Please drive carefully going home,” he smiled as the performance drew to a close. “Christine is out there.”

ACL Live at the Moody Theater set list, 6.23.16

Escape From New York main title

Assault on Precinct 13 main title



The Fog main title theme

They Live: “Coming to L.A.”

The Thing: “Desolation”

“Distant Dream”

Big Trouble in Little China: “Pork Chop Express”



Halloween theme

In the Mouth of Madness theme


Prince of Darkness opening titles

“Virtual Survivor”


Christine: “Christine Attacks (Plymouth Fury)”

Read our full interview with director/composer John Carpenter.

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John Carpenter, Escape from New York, Assault on Precinct 13, In the Mouth of Madness, Dark Star, Christine, Cody Carpenter, Daniel Davies, Dave Davies, Tenacious D, Roddy Piper, Goblin, Giorgoio Moroder, Jeff Lynne

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