Tag Archives: ska

Oingo Boingo Members Only

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’!

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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.

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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.

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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.

The Specials and Terry Hall

specials_band2_144dpiTerry Hall’s artistry is one of Britain’s fairly well-kept secrets. Sure, the average music fan outside of the U.K. who knows a bit about punk and new wave music from the late 70’s through the 80’s will know of ska sensation The Specials, and might have known about Fun Boy Three – at least their song “Our Lips Are Sealed” (a much bigger hit for co-writer Jane Wiedlin’s The Go-Go’s.) But fewer yet will know about the bands Colourfield or Vegas (with Euryhmics founder David A. Stewart), or in fact any of Hall’s rich and varied solo work. Terry Hall lent his compositions, his smooth expressive voice, and his at times political, satirical, or dryly-humorous lyrics to many bands and projects over the years, delivering them in his distant yet passionate style, improving everything he touched.

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Hall first came to be known with ska revival band The Specials in the late 1970s. Keyboardist and political activist Jerry Dammers formed the Specials. The lineup shifted for a couple of years, gelling into the most known lineup of Hall, Dammers, vocalist Neville Staple, guitarists Roddy Byers and Lynval Golding, bassist Horace Panter and rocksteady beat drummer John Bradbury. Dammers started the 2 Tone Records label in 1979, released the band’s first single “Gangsters” and then their self-titled debut album. The Specials music combines the primarily joyful sound of ska music with often politically charged and socially conscious lyrical commentary, peppered with the energy and attitude of punk.

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After their second album More Specials, and the non-album single “Ghost Town,” Hall, Golding, and Staple left the group to form Fun Boy Three, who were active from 1981 to 1983. The rest of the musicians in The Specials soldiered on in various forms and bands including Special AKA, Special Beat (with members of the Beat), Sunday Best, and others. Dammers disbanded The Specials in 1984. There have been reunion shows, four album releases and various lineups of the band since that demise, but all without Dammers and most missing one or two other key members including Hall. Interest peaked beginning on the band’s 30th anniversary in 2009, which led to several tours, including one of North America in 2013 and another this year, which stopped in San Francisco at the Warfield Theater September 23, 2016.

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The show was fantastic. Today Hall, Golding and Panter represent the original band, with rock-steady Libertines drummer Gary Powell just this year replacing ace John Bradbury, after his unfortunate passing in 2015. Byers left in 2014, and Staple hasn’t joined due to health issues since 2013. Nevertheless, with Hall, Golding, and Panter up front and the full compliment of musicians alongside them, the band sounds amazing and the performance is spirited. Hall himself doesn’t move a lot, and expresses himself infrequently as is his norm. Quips like (paraphrased) “hey what’s this picture of Santa doing on my can of Coca-Cola? Pepsi is the anti-Christ!” belie his continuing acerbic wit, while his real focus is on faithful delivery of the vocals, a treat for any long time fan of Hall’s restrained vibrato.

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The band organized the set list creatively, starting at a slow pace with the hit single from their EP Ghost Town, building the intensity gradually over the next hour, until unleashing the one-two punch of “Nite Klub,” which drew of bit of “slam dancing” from the standing-room only crowd up front. Highlights included one of my favorite Hall compositions “Friday Night Saturday Morning,” which evoked the crowd to croon its instant-ear-worm chorus “I go out on Friday night and I come home on Saturday morning.” Later in the set, “Doesn’t Make It Alright,” and the second a-side single from the EP, “Why?” had us thinking about the sad state of race relations in America:

I’m proud of my black skin and you are proud of your white, so
Why do you try to hurt me?
Do you really want to kill me?

Fittingly, at this point Golding admonished us all not to vote for Trump! The band continued to build the momentum, performing most of their first two albums and the Ghost Town EP to the adoring crowd. By the end, after cranking thru up-tempo songs like “Concrete Jungle,” “Little Bitch,” and “Too Much Too Young” they eased off the gas with covers “Enjoy Yourself,” and “You’re Wondering Now.”

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Dammers once said that when a new innovative music comes to the fore, it can be embedded with political lyrics – he intended that The Specials be able to address the issues of racism, something every fan of the band knows well from their lyrics and between-song banter. Hall continued in this vein with Fun Boy Three, Colourfield, and his later solo work. It’s a successful brew – one that cemented the group’s reputation and importance for their fans. It’s very hard to believe that this groundbreaking band will see the 40th anniversary of their founding next year. These reunion shows are, still, highly recommended. Now, I can still wait and hope for, someday, a solo Terry Hall concert as well!