The members of the 80s band Oingo Boingo bounced into the Saratoga Mountain Winery last weekend on a freezing night with high winds, supported by The Tubes and Dramarama (though it was too cold to see that third act as the sun went down and winds blew fiercely).
They were in a phrase or two, flipping-fantastic and totally bitchin’!
Oingo Boingo came on the scene in 1979 in the hazy sunny lands of Orange County and Los Angeles, where like a beacon of light in the USA, they shone far outside of London where a potent blend of punk and ska had taken hold. From the first album Only a Lad (1981) through the last Boingo (1994) Danny Elfman, principal composer, crazy orange-haired vocalist and guitar and gourd player stormed across stages mostly in the western US but across the land to thrill, scare and incite young audiences to dance, elbow and generally bash each other in sweaty mosh pits.
Danny was a singular force in this group, and after he left having lost his “spirit” for the band they just dissolved – a horse without its head. Danny been penning movie soundtracks, the first ones of which were Weird Science (1985) and Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (1985) along with others that came before the band split, and were followed by a long series of popular successes – soundtracks for almost all of Tim Burton’s films and other directors. Eventually Danny came to his penultimate expression, the Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), during which as avid musical/movie watchers know he beautifully sang such gems as “What’s This” and “Jack’s Lament.”
So perfectly suited to this work is Danny that he will not go back and redo Oingo Boingo shows (citing potential hearing loss and the fact he considers some of his early work silly), even if he plays “Dead Man’s Party” sometimes at the end of his performance of Nightmare (with cast) for which he brings out partner guitarist Steve Bartek, who it should be said produced the orchestrated scores for most of the Elfman penned film soundtracks as well.
Now so many years later, the band has reunited, sans Danny, but ready to show all and anyone how flipping incredible they were and are in concert. The show was stunning – all the hooks, horns, bass, drums and percussion were there (even if gourds were replaced by a synth patch/sequence on the Korg). They played once again with wild abandon, precision and spirit and rocked our not-so sweaty mosh pit.
But what of the missing Elf-man you say? Well, in an era when older bands end up with “replacement” singers the Boingo is now no exception. Young turk Brendan McCreary actually inhabits Danny’s spectral presence. He sounds like Danny, yet with his own style, and perfect vibrato – less of a yell for the high notes and actually more of a singer. He bounces across the stage, crouches, and gesticulates in a way I actually loved as much if not sometimes more than Danny, simply because he is not vaguely sinister (!) and he is not stuck for half the time behind a guitar.
The band who are left were there – trumpet (Brian Swartz) sax (Sam “Sluggo“ Phillips), drums (Johnny Vatos Hernandez), bass (Freddie Hernandez), guitar (Steve Bartek now joined by Mike Glendinning), keys (Carl Graves) alternate bassist (John Avila), percussion, trombone, accordion (Doug Lacy) all still fantastically talented and on display. Who do you want to be today and are you only a lad that wants to have wild sex in the working class? You know you do, so go go go to see them.
p.s. Fee Waybill of the Tubes is still crazy and knows what he wants from life, just like a white punk on dope. Fantastic opener and if as a headliner nears you, that too.