John Carpenter: ‘Release the Bats’ Tour, Manchester 29-10-16, Victoria Warehouse – UKHS review by Rosie Gibbs
“I make horror movies.
I love horror movies.
Horror movies will live forever.”
So spoke the man of the moment to a packed crowd of Carpenter-ites a week ago last Saturday, just before treating them to a run-through of the unmistakable theme from probably his best-known directorial work, ‘Halloween’. Manchester’s Victoria Warehouse for an all-too-brief 90 minutes was gifted live renditions of the scores of the superbly varied back catalogue of films by the now 68-year-old auteur from Kentucky.
Carpenter and his touring band, Scott Seiver (drums), Tenacious D associates John Konesky (guitar) and John Spiker (bass), Daniel Davies (lead guitar) and Carpenter Jnr., Cody on lead synth, kicked the show off with an excellent choice of opener – the theme from ‘Escape from New York’. The gentle synth intro to the 1981 cult classic was given a more thunderous live make-over and soon had the crowd of Mancunian Carpenter devotees grooving in fond unison, and the strains of the main theme from ‘Assault on Precinct 13’ were welcomed with similar vigour.
Music then followed from ‘The Thing’ (the only film covered which does not contain music written by Carpenter, but instead by the great Ennio Morricone, whom ‘JC’ gave a humble mention to during his introduction), the bloody excellent main theme from ‘Big Trouble in Little China’ and music from the highly under-rated ‘Prince of Darkness’. Interspersed with these were excerpts from Carpenter’s recent album releases, ‘Lost Themes’ and ‘Lost Themes II’. Whilst possibly not as well-recognised as the film compositions, the band’s renditions of tracks such as ‘Wraith’ and ‘Vortex’ were still played to much appreciation and helped pad out the show’s run-time, as well as showcase Carpenter’s more modern musical work outside of film with the help of songs co-written by Davies and Carpenter Jnr.
The man himself and his band were characteristically laid-back yet not averse to a little showmanship and gentle humour, most notably donning shades and popping in gum during the theme from ‘They Live’, to the screen back-drop of the film’s famous subliminal messages, and of course having the smoke machines give it some welly during ‘The Fog”s theme. Indeed, the obligatory background footage from each film as its theme played was very well tied in with the rhythm and mood of each song, and it was admittedly a rather heart-warming treat to hear the crowd cheer at the sight of Carpenter favourites Kurt Russell, Jamie Lee Curtis, the fabulous Victor Wong and Donald Pleasance, plus of course our old friend Michael.
It was as thrilling as I expected to see the man himself in person performing classic music from his most successful films (tracks from his later offerings such as ‘Ghosts of Mars’ and ‘Vampires’ were perhaps understandably left alone!) and the whole show served as a reminder to treasure of the stories he’s told, the characters he has brought to life and simply fact that he’s a damned gifted composer to boot, whose musical talent is perhaps only now getting the real credit it deserves. During the encore we were given music from another under-rated Carpenter staple, ‘In the Mouth of Madness’, and Carpenter introduced the final song with a warning for us to all be sure to get home safe, as “Christine is out there!”
On social media there have been some complaints that the Victoria Warehouse wasn’t the right venue for this gig and I would certainly agree with that – it was over-crowded and possibly the original venue, the Albert Hall, would have been more suited. Also, we were promised a venue ‘Halloween transformation’; not sure twenty-odd pumpkins really qualifies as that? Mind you, many of the peeps in the crowd had transformed into Snakes, MacReadys, Thunders and They Live aliens which made sure as a whole we were covered on that front! Over-priced drinks and visibility issues aside, I can probably safely say that the event was still thoroughly enjoyable…it’s the Horror Master for God’s sake, and who knew we would ever get this opportunity which could well be a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing? Having said that, John Carpenter does not seem to be showing any sign of packing up the synthesiser for good any time soon.
Long may the Master continue, in whatever form he chooses.