Review: John Carpenter – Victoria Warehouse, Manchester 29th October 2016

001Over the last few years, there has developed a trend for horror movie soundtrack composers taking their work, often composer decades ago, out on the road – the cult movie version of the heritage band who have been around so long that they now have a ready audience to lap up work that even ten years ago might have struggled to find an audience. The latest of these is John Carpenter, better known as a filmmaker but also the man responsible for the scores of most of his movies. Now aged 68, he’s more enthused with music than cinema, having effectively retired from filmmaking and now released two albums of original music. Still, the announcement that he was to tour the UK – initially just in Manchester and London, and eventually in several shows across the country – was a surprise – and a pleasant one. We all eagerly snapped up tickets for the first of the two Manchester shows – then the first UK gig.

Things started to go wrong when the original promoter ATP – already better known these days for cancelling gigs at the last minute – went out of business and the Victoria Warehouse Music Team took over. The two shows were merged into one, moving from the relatively intimate Albert Hall to the rather more unknown quantity of – of course – the Victoria Warehouse – a rather less central venue owned by the promoters. My only knowledge of the venue was that it had, in August, played host to sex expo Sexhibition, and that was a little worrying – expo venues are not necessarily suited to live music. But Victoria Warehouse seems to be a complex of buildings playing host to all manner of pursuits, including a hotel, so there was the hope of different spaces being used for different activities.

Or not.

Walking into the building gave me a slightly sinking feeling from the moment we had to negotiated the sullen ticket collectors and aggressive looking bag searchers – already it felt chaotic. And once inside the building, my immediate thought was ‘ my God, it’s like a mini-Bingley Hall’ – flashing back to the horrible cattle shed venue that bands like Kiss played in the 1980s before actual arenas were built. And it was rammed, an hour before the gig was due to start. Even upstairs, the crowd looked four of five deep. It was immediately obvious that the place was over full. Not legally, I imagine – but in terms of everyone getting a chance to see and hear, definitely. Because this is not a concert venue, the floor is flat rather than sloped, so those at the back – and that’s inevitably far more people than at the front – are unable to see. The shape means that there were plenty of blind spots for people to get stuck behind, and the sound system looked woefully inadequate – as it turned out to be. If you were upstairs or at the back of the venue, the sound would be a muffled, indistinct rumble and you probably wouldn’t see anything. And yet tickets were still on sale the night of the show. Someone – and it probably wasn’t Carpenter – was making a huge amount of money from lazily delivering a substandard event.

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We pushed our way to a point approximately a third of the way from the stage, and yes, we could see and hear. But why should we have to? I’m not one for heaving crowds these days, and at pretty much every other gig I’ve been to – large or small – you can either have some personal space at a midway point of stand right at the back, and still see and hear everything. About halfway through the gig, Mrs R and myself decided to go to the toilet and visit the laughably named ‘Craft Beer Bar’ (two shitty ales, neither of which was remotely crafty). Getting back took forever, working our way through the now jam-packed crowd; returning with drinks was clearly going to be impossible. Which is how we got to see how the other half were living – the people who couldn’t or wouldn’t fight (quite literally by all accounts) to get to the front. Here, people who had paid good money to see a man they presumably idolized were left to make their own fun, with nothing to see and very little to hear. It was shocking.

As for Carpenter – rumours that he was barely playing anything proved to be wrong – he might not have been on the lead synth (that was his son Cody) but he was belting away on the keyboard all evening as far as I could see. There wasn’t much crowd interaction – no asides about the films, no witty tales – but his introductions were oddly amusing, gruff ageing rock star-like proclamations (he even raised the devil horns at one point). And the presentation, for those who could see, was fine – film clips on a back projection screen surrounded by other projections gave a nice visual style, even though some of the clips might have been more sympathetically cut to match the music – they often felt like randomly edited highlight reels. Still, the appearance of favourite characters and moments got a predictable cheer from those who could see them.

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But much as I love several Carpenter films – and at least three would be in my top 100 movies of all time – I didn’t get the any sort of emotional feeling seeing him live. This didn’t feel like an overwhelming experience. In fairness, it felt like Carpenter had about half an hour of great stuff in him. And that’s actually very impressive for a man playing the opening title music from his own movies – that’s up to ten pieces from a man who has made less than 20 theatrical features. The rest of the gig – more anonymous film themes and the Lost Themes music which, I’m afraid, sounds like rather anonymous 1980s movie score material, dated and uninspiring – I could’ve lived without really. And the playlisting of the music was odd – the classic tracks were mostly used up in the first half, with even Halloween tossed away at a random point (and in a needlessly rocked up version) rather than being the closer it cried out to be – especially on October 29th.

Carpenter, then, was good – not great by any means unless viewed through rose-tinted glasses, which I imagine many of the audience were wearing – but not an embarrassment. The venue, however, left a bad taste in my mouth and completely ruined it for many, many others. This is hardly Carpenter’s fault – I doubt he’s heard of the place prior to rocking up there on Saturday afternoon – but I’d like to think that he is demanding answers from those responsible. After all, he’s the one it ends up reflecting on, as unfair as that is.

DAVID FLINT

Photos: Gavin Morrow https://www.flickr.com/photos/gavinmorrow

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