If you’re a fan of all things Halloween, chances are you’re a fan of Tim Burton; his warped sense of direction and unmistakable visual style lends itself perfectly to the holiday. And if you’re a fan of Burton, then chances are you’re a fan of Danny Elfman–Elfman has been a long time friend and collaborator of Burton’s, composing the scores for all but two of Burton’s films (those being Ed Wood and Sweeney Todd). Elfman’s distinct musical sense, with pounding brass and percussion and haunting strings, is one that the keen ear can surely distinguish after hearing the scores to Beetlejuice and Batman. But only those of the highest Elfman fandom will know of his origins, and how from 1979 to 1995 he was the frontman and composer for the hyperactive new wave rock group (and my personal favorite band), Oingo Boingo.
While never really achieving high mainstream success, Boingo succeeded through the years by a dedicated and ravenous cult fan base and a sturdy footing in the 1980s California new wave scene. While their style evolved greatly through the years (their first album featured a bubblegum synthpop tune about pedophilia and their last album featured a morose soft rocker about lost love) a few things remained ever-present: their eccentric showmanship, Elfman’s groovy melodies and bizarro lyrics, and their assimilation with all things Halloween–the band almost always performed a concert on the holiday religiously until the group’s retirement in 1995. Boingo had a myriad of hits, but the tune that found the most mainstream success and will surely end up on a Pandora Halloween playlist is the dance rock hit “Dead Man’s Party.” In spite of this, after Boingo’s farewell concert, Elfman stated that due to deteriorating hearing (and more likely boredom of the group) he would not be involved in any formal Boingo reunion.
Until Halloween 2015, that is.
With Elfman in returning to the stage in recent years to sing along as Jack Skellington for A Nightmare Before Christmas concerts, the wise Boingo fan might’ve sensed that something was brewing in the old Pumpkin King’s skull. And after his set at the Hollywood Bowl on October 31, Elfman came to the front of the stage with an electric guitar in hand.
“…If I don’t do it very well, forgive me,” Elfman said, with an uncharacteristic glimmer of shyness. “It has been exactly 20 years to this day…that I played this song last.” He then proceeded to invite lead Boingo guitarist and Elfman orchestrator, Steve Bartek, to the stage. And with an all too familiar guitar riff, the two led the orchestra in a live performance of “Dead Man’s Party.” (The performance can be seen here.)
The crowd went wild as Elfman’s haunting voice filled the theater, still sounding just as strong after all these years. The only ample way to describe the feeling of watching the man perform something he swore he never would is electric. I’ve watched this performance now countless times and it still gives me chills. It was a triumphant return to form for Elfman and a perfect celebration of the anniversary and the holiday in general.
One can only hope that Elfman is hinting at further Boingo performances, but I won’t get too greedy just yet, as this one performance alone has satisfied all my desires of a true Boingo reunion. But if the occasion should arise, it’s gonna be one helluva dead man’s party once again.
(Title image via).