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O.C. POP MUSIC REVIEW : Oingo Boingo Is at Its Spooky Best

October 29, 1990|MIKE BOEHM | TIMES STAFF WRITER

IRVINE — Halloween and Oingo Boingo are the perfect match.

The holiday is about deriving some tingly pleasure from the horrific without really probing the more serious philosophical and emotional dimensions of what it means to be either dead, damned, or in dire fear of both possibilities.

Oingo Boingo is a band that likes to do a song and dance--an expert and entertaining song and dance--on the edge of the abyss of night fears, existential crises and psychological traumas that occupies the darker sector of our consciousness. The Los Angeles band and its leader, Danny Elfman, tend not to gaze too long or too deeply into that abyss, where more arresting artistic possibilities await musicians obsessed enough to plunge in and immerse themselves in true darkness. But if Oingo Boingo offers mild spookiness for fun, without the catharsis that comes from seriously grappling with horrors, spooky fun, rather than catharsis, is what folks want out of Halloween.

Opening its annual Halloween-season stand at Irvine Meadows on Friday night, Oingo Boingo gave the near-capacity house a lighthearted take on the macabre and a great deal of fun. The eight-member band, including a sharp, three-man horn section that supplemented Boingo's trademark percolating rhythms with the brassy heft of a Memphis soul band, was at the top of its form throughout a sprawling, 2 1/2-hour extravaganza encompassing 34 songs. It's hard to imagine Oingo Boingo sounding tighter, or better, than it did in this extended display of energy and craftsmanship.

The concert unfolded on a stage adorned with the figures of four skeletal musicians in Mexican "Day of the Dead" regalia. An overhead video screen proved well worth checking from time to time, with inventive shots of the band as it played (especially some nice black and white images) along with animations and scenes from old horror movies.

Elfman was a strong, flexible vocalist who favored deep-voiced, declamatory theatricality a la David Bowie (or Vincent Price, for that matter). But he also could reach the height of his range with only a hint of strain in passages patterned after the melismatic pop-soul stylings that Todd Rundgren favors, but can't negotiate with as much assurance as Elfman. A smattering of richly melodic, romantic songs such as "We Close Our Eyes" and "Not My Slave" showed off Elfman's voice best and offered contrast from the flow of lightly ironic or mildly macabre themes that formed the bulk of Boingo's repertoire.

The program would have benefited from some paring. By opening with an Afro-beat instrumental number, the band backed into the proceedings instead of launching them in full flight. However, Boingo quickly got down to the telltale heart of the matter with "Dead Man's Party." An opening 45-minute sequence without a breather set the level of high energy and high musicianship. The next hour or so modulated nicely between slower and faster, brighter and darker. In one nice juxtaposition, the ghostly rock drive of "Long Breakdown" led into the effervescent funk of "Elevator Man." The segment included a wry surprise, "Minnie the Moocher," done with New Orleans jazz funeral oompah. Boingo could have profitably shortened the home stretch, which featured a few too many numbers from its more frenetic, less melodic early-'80s period.

This lively dead-man's party would have been better if it had clocked in at 2 hours instead of 2 1/2, but the audience was there to dance along to the Halloween ritual as long as Oingo Boingo chose to keep it going.

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