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MUSIC OINGO BOINGO : Live Man's Band : Oingo Boingo, those eight quirky lads from L.A., will play at the Santa Barbara County Bowl.

October 18, 1990|BILL LOCEY

Oingo Boingo. Sounds like a tropical disease you don't want, when, in fact, it's merely a quirky octet of L.A. rockers in high gear. Play Oingo Boingo at the Indy 500, and those cars would go 300 m.p.h. Play them for Jimmy Stewart and he'd talk fast. Play them at home and clean the house in 14 seconds. Oingo Boingo doesn't do a lot of slow ones, and it probably won't change when it plays Santa Barbara Tuesday.

Originally a theatrical troupe, The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo, the band shortened its name and started rocking in 1978 and hasn't stopped since. So far, there are six Boingo albums plus a number of compilations. In L.A., the band is so popular that it recently sold out the Universal Amphitheatre for five consecutive nights. It also sold a zillion T-shirts.

Always a strong draw in Santa Barbara, this will be Boingo's first Santa Barbara County Bowl appearance in a few years. When the band kicks off the show with "Dead Man's Party" (as it always does), all those eucalyptus trees will be swaying. Really fast.

In addition to the frantic and frequent Boingo shows, front man Danny Elfman stays busy. He probably hasn't slept since 1987. He doesn't have the time--he's too busy writing movie scores. Elfman is your basic "hot" Hollywood property. He's written soundtracks for "Pee-wee's Big Adventure," "Back to School," "Beetlejuice," and "Batman," and also for TV's "The Simpsons." Elfman agreed to discuss the life and times of Oingo Boingo in a recent telephone interview:

The band always sells out in Santa Barbara, but hasn't played there in a few years, why?

I don't really know. We don't do any extensive touring. It's never been my desire to be on the road for six months or even six weeks. We just like shorter tours. It's different every year--there's no set pattern. We always like to play Halloween, then just short tours in odd months.

What happened to the Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo?

Well, my brother Richard Elfman recruited me to be the musical director in the late '70s and we'd rent a theater for a week or two and do this really wild theatrical stuff. It was great fun. Besides myself, four of us are still in the band today: guitarist Steve Bartek and the horn section, Sam Phipps, Leon Schneiderman and Dale Turner.

How did Oingo Boingo get started?

By 1978, I was already thinking of retiring from the Knights. It was starting to get boring. I dropped out in the '70s and didn't listen to contemporary music for eight years or so, but I always liked Latin, African and ska music, especially ska music. I guess we just wanted to do more music and less theater.

How would you describe Boingo music?

I've never been able to.

Is there a basic Boingo fan?

They've changed over the years; there's more younger people now. They're pretty eclectic.

Are there any current bands you like?

Well, I've sort of slipped back into not listening to contemporary music again. It's not from lack of interest, but there's just so much awful stuff and my ability to wade through it all is becoming more and more an impossibility for me. I'm pretty out of it, but there are a couple of artists I always find time for: R.E.M., U2, The Talking Heads and Peter Gabriel.

How does your soundtrack work effect Boingo?

It really helps to keep Boingo alive for me. Soundtracks are very high pressure situations, but they sort of revive the other me. In all things, there is the repetition factor. Like with the band, people want to hear the same songs, the ones they remember when they first discovered us. The repetition factor is sort of the down side for rock and roll. With soundtracks, I don't have to repeat anything. But the pressure is so great, I wouldn't want to do either thing exclusively.

Did you get to meet Kim Basinger when you did the "Batman" soundtrack?

I never did.

So I guess you can't give out her home number; how 'bout those Rams?

I wouldn't know. I haven't been to a game since I was 11 or so.

What's the best thing about being a rock god?

I'll let you know when I become one.

Oingo Boingo is big time in L.A. but not necessarily so elsewhere, why?

I don't really know. We're very popular in Brazil, for example. We played to our largest crowd ever in Brazil recently. We do OK in the West--we're very popular in Salt Lake City, Phoenix, but not so much in the Pacific Northwest, I'm not sure why.

What was the band's strangest gig?

We played this Fourth of July benefit with Fear in Long Beach in this huge tent. There must've been 3,000 or 4,000 people in this tent, and when we started playing, the crowd got really wild and all these people started climbing the poles. I thought the whole tent was going to fall on us.

There's a zillion different Oingo Boingo T-shirts--how many are there?

I have no idea, but I'm always pressuring the T-shirt people to come up with new stuff.

At a Boingo show, there's usually enough skulls for a Grateful Dead concert, why?

It's just a fascination. We always play on Halloween and we love the Dia de los Muertos .

WHERE AND WHEN

Oingo Boingo at the Santa Barbara County Bowl, 1122 N. Milpas St., Santa Barbara. Tuesday, 7 p.m. Ticket prices: $24.75 and $20.75. T-shirts optional. For more information, call 966-2727.

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