Music review: John Carpenter, Usher Hall, Edinburgh

John Carpenter | Rating: **** | Usher Hall, Edinburgh

John Carpenter. Picture: contributed

ALTHOUGH best known as the director of a string of cult horror and genre films, from the classic slasher Hallowe’en to schlocky martial arts action movie Big Trouble in Little China, John Carpenter has stepped away from filmmaking in the last decade or so to produce a couple of instrumental albums, Lost Themes I and II, in the style of the retro-futuristic synthesizer soundtracks he composed for many of his own films.

Now the spry 68-year-old has taken up touring with a young rock band, including his son Cody on keyboards, to perform spooky selections from his extensive back catalogue of evocative vintage electronica. An opening commanding chord shot a frisson of foreboding into the auditorium, where an excited fan convention atmosphere prevailed.

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Those fans wearing Snake Plissken-style eyepatches were immediately sated with the title theme from Escape from New York, a musical call-to-arms teaming Carpenter’s trademark analogue synths with meaty guitar, and swiftly followed by the ruthlessly effective riffola of the Assault on Precinct 13 theme, with its strong, simple chords, unadorned basslines and powerful synthquake.

Each soundtrack selection was accompanied by footage of key scenes from the relevant films, providing a potted taster of the plot and showcasing the juiciest/bloodiest/yuckiest special effects.

The material from his two Lost Themes albums was less recognisable but discomfortingly familiar, from the throbbing pulse of Vortex to the glistening ecclesiastical arpeggios of Mystery which morphed into such a serious heavy metal workout that one half expected Ozzy Osbourne to show up, intoning balefully.

Its doom metal stylings were complemented later by the sepulchral synths and gothic guitars of Darkness Begins, from Prince Of Darkness, and there was a respectful outing for Ennio Morricone’s moody, broody and suitably icy title theme for The Thing.

But there was also an impish sense of humour at play when the band all donned dark shades to deliver the swaggering blues rock accompaniment to They Live – a dumb soundtrack for a smart film. Carpenter joked that most of the set had been “uncharacteristically positive” – so he duly remedied that situation with the brilliant, taut, relentless theme to Hallowe’en, then sent us scurrying back home to hoover up his films with the caution to drive carefully, lest we encountered his killer car Christine.