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 Francisco.
[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 are musicals."
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