Composer Elfman scales Oingo Boingo
by Michael Snyder
San Francisco Chronicle, 1993.01
Danny Elfman isn't just a successful composer of movie and TV
soundtracks. He's responsible for some of the most inescapable music of the
past decade: those familiar themes from The Simpsons, Pee Wee's big
adventure, and the Batman movies. His Batman overture is heard six
days a week on the Fox television network, as the theme to the sharp new animated
cartoon series about the caped crusader.
Elfman has scored such high-profile films as Dick Tracy,
Edward Scissorhands, Beetlejuice, Midnight Run, and Scrooged.
So why is the in-demand wunderkind returning to the competitive grind of the
concert stage and the recording studio as the lead singer and songwriter of
the arty, frantic Los Angeles rock band Oingo Boingo?
"After seven years of movie work, I'm feeling burnt out," said
Elfman last week, phoning from Southern California. "Film composing
is sitting at a piano for 12 hours a day. The solitude of the job
turns one into a grumpy, cynical personality. The band is a way to
offset that. Being in a band is very physical. There's the
camaraderie. It's like a weird extended family.
"With film composing, you have to answer to the director, the
producer, and the movie company. With the band, I don't have to
please anyone but myself and the audience."
This evening's Oingo Boingo concert [Jan 1993] at the Warfield is
the final show of a special three-night engagement by the eight-man
ensemble. Over the past few years, the musicians occasionally
performed in Los Angeles and toured through the Western states. But
there were no nationwide tours, and they haven't released any new
material since the seventh Oingo Boingo album, 1990's "Dark at the
End of the Tunnel."
Recently signed to Giant Records, the abnd is using the Warfield
dates to test four or five new numbers by Elfman for inclusion on the
next Boingo recording. In 1978, Oingo Boingo was forged out of the
remains of a bizarre, 12-piece theatrical troupe, the Mystic Knights
of the Oingo Boingo. Before Elfman and some other holdovers opted for
the rock band route, the Mystic Knights enjoyed acclaimed runs in San
[Note: Switching now to modern Boingo days...]
"The current shows are semi-radical," said Elfman. "A lot of our
tunes are driven by sequenced, pre-programmed marimba or percussion
parts. Instead of using the electronic sequencers, [on this tour]
we're bringing along two extra percussionists, an extra keyboardist,
rhythm guitarist and accordion player."
It's been years since Oingo Boingo played a San Francisco venue.
Because of the group's longevity, a devoted corps of fans, and the
continued local radio play of Elfman songs such as "Dead Man's
Party," Oingo Boingo had been headlining the Concord Pavillion on its
most recent Bay Area visits.
As far back as the Mystic Knights days, Elfman's writing was
notable for its mix of complex, jazz-oriented melodies and
arrangements, Third World rhythms, rock energy and sardonic lyrics.
That electicism may explain why his compositional talents were
embraced by the film industry.
A renewed Oingo Boingo doesn't mean that Elfman will completely
forgo Hollywood business. He recently finished work on a stop-motion animated
musical, The nightmare before Christmas, produced by Tim Burton.
"Doing a full-blown musical like 'Nightmare' was so much fun, I
didn't want to stop," said Elfman. "I have three movie projects in
development that I either scripted or co-scripted, and two of them