John Carpenter
Playstation Theater; New York, NY

Photo: Lindsey Claps

Shortly after the lights went down, the opening salvo of the “Escape from New York Main Theme” set the tone for the evening: furtively creeping but confrontational as fuck. The smoke poured out, the film’s most famous clips were projected upon a screen at the back of the stage, and then, there he was front-and-center, the Master of Horror himself, his synth alight with the magic power of cinema.

Considering that this concert took place less than 24 hours after the Dallas shooting, it might’ve been safer, or at least more sensitive, to follow “Escape” with anything but the “Assault on Precinct 13” theme — a more acquiescent artist might’ve left such a tune out of his set altogether that night — but then, Carpenter’s films have never been much for safety, political correctness or compromise. And as they teach us time and time again, the only way to overcome fear is by confronting it.

After starting off with two action-movie themes, Carpenter and his band (consisting of son Cody Carpenter and godson Daniel Davies, along with John Konesky, John Spiker, and Scott Seiver) brought the crowd into the “Vortex,” the first of six songs from Lost Themes and Lost Themes II played that night. They followed those with another lost theme, “Mystery,” before returning to cinematic retrospective mode with “The Fog” and “They Live,” the latter of which really got the crowd going. I’d even offer that you haven’t truly viewed the famous Piper-Lindo fight scene until you’ve seen it sound-tracked live by musicians donning sunglasses.

Photo: Lindsey Claps

Another notable point of the evening came five songs later, when Carpenter pointed out that despite having performed “The Fog” and “The Thing,” most of the songs he’d played so far were relatively upbeat when compared with his reputation. To bring us back down to hell, so to speak, the band launched into “Night” (included in my Halloween eve mix for TMT last year) before closing their set with — yes — “Halloween,” followed by the theme from In The Mouth of Madness, my personal favorite Carpenter film.

A four-song encore sandwiched two more lost themes, “Purgatory” and “Virtual Survivor,” with the main titles from Prince of Darkness and Christine. However, here and throughout the entire performance, the new tunes came across not as set filler meant to pass the minutes between old crowd favorites, but as invitations into the mouth, or better still, the mind of a madness perfectly twisted to pass anti-authoritarian missives off on the masses as mainstream movies.

Whether these songs were made mainly for family fun or public consumption, for studio recording or live performance, they can and do inspire… so long as you’re brave enough to face them.

All photos by Lindsey Claps

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