John Carpenter’s first live musical performance in Toronto was a treat

The 69-year-old horror master's Danforth Music Hall set was mostly a celebration of himself and his films, and it was a hell of a night

JOHN CARPENTER at the Danforth Music Hall, Sunday, November 12. Rating: NNNN

Halloween has had a certain sound for as long as I’ve lived.

You can hear it blasting out of every Clifton Hill haunted house and neighbourhood that goes all out with their decorations. It sounds like an unforgiving machine. It sounds like drips in an all too quiet alley. It sounds like something getting closer. When John Carpenter released his 1978 film, Halloween, he didn’t just cement how horror films looked, but through his cold and unrelenting original score, also how they sounded. Many people know the theme even if they’ve never seen the movie, a soundtrack to our own horror nights.

Carpenter scored the majority of his films himself, and most of those soundtracks are exceptional. Even his weaker directorial offerings, like 1995’s Village Of The Damned and 1998’s Vampires, at least have memorable soundtracks. Carpenter doesn’t make films any more the scale of Hollywood won’t accommodate middle-budget thrillers, and the 69-year old director is pursuing other things – watching basketball, playing Sonic Mania and making music – that seem to make him happy. 

At the Danforth Music Hall on Sunday, his first live musical performance in Toronto, it was clear that he enjoys his life as a performer. He’s been making original music for movies “in your head” since his 2015 debut studio album, Lost Themes, but this concert was for his new Sacred Bones album, Anthology (Movie Themes 1974-1988), a collection of newly recorded versions of his most iconic movie music.

It’s difficult to compare it to a typical show, or even to the recent spate of live horror scores. Even compared to Goblin concerts, which summon the same audience and the same amount of horror movie hoodies, this was more about the John Carpenter experience than strictly the music. Music played, synchronized video montages of Christine, Starman and The Thing rolled, and Carpenter bopped behind his keyboard, pressing his fingers down only for the most important chords. A six-piece band including him and his son, Cody, carried most of the synth work.

And yet it was a hell of a night. It felt a bit like a two-way tribute, an opportunity for fans and creator to come out to the other’s appreciation day. Carpenter soaked up the love from the crowd, pointing devil horns at whomever yelled his name. The strangest moment came as he rolled out the theme to The Fog, one of his more traditional, melodic pieces.  A hush fell over the room the moment Carpenter began playing the main keyboard line – delicate and eerie – the chattering crowd suddenly quiet at the stroke of a key. 

A love for Carpenter’s films and his music feels part and parcel. It’s hard to imagine why a non-fan would come out to an event so clearly tailored for those already initiated into the cult. It’s just as hard to imagine what a Halloween night would sound like without the chattering beats that soundtracked Michael Myers’s stalking.

Carpenter’s celebration of himself was a treat, a night that won’t easily die… at least not in our memories. | @ZaaackKoootzer

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