IRVINE — Was Danny Elfman returning the traditional Oingo Boingo Halloween celebration at the Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre to his fans, or taking it back for himself?
In a generous, well-executed and imaginatively staged show ending a two-night stand at Irvine Meadows, Elfman and band managed to do both Saturday night.
Last year, Oingo Boingo broke a six-year string of highly lucrative Halloween-season concerts at the facility, as bandleader Elfman declared that he didn't want to feel like a "trained monkey" performing to meet fan expectations.
As if to alert fans that Boingo was returning on its own terms, Elfman front-loaded Saturday's show with new songs from an album-in-progress that, when it is released next spring, will be the band's first since 1990. Of the show's first 10 songs, seven were new. Judging from a tepid response, they were far from an instant hit with the fans.
Well, too bad for them. The material marked a gutsy new direction for the band and made for some powerfully rocking moments. The hallmarks of the old Boingo were smooth and catchy melodic hooks and frenzied, bouncing beats. The new stuff was the work of a weightier, angrier band, with the hooks toned down in favor of dark, edgy guitar riffs and headlong thrust replacing the old bounce.
In the wake of Nirvana and Pearl Jam, angry, dark and heavy are certainly in. But Elfman is nothing if not a craftsman, and for all the swarming density of such new songs as "Insanity" and "Lost Like This," there also was a Beatles-derived sense of form that kept Boingo from sounding like a trend-hopping bunch of born-again grunge rockers.
The connection with the meatier, denser side of the Beatles was made explicit when Boingo ventured a satisfying, close-to-the-original cover of "I Am the Walrus."
Boingo fans are too loyal to rebel, and the band rewarded their patience with more than 20 nuggets from the catalogue that set the crowd a-boinging with glee (only a committed fan could relish the long, show-ending skein of early '80s songs in the frenzied style that marks Elfman's juvenilia). But, overall, Boingo gave another stylish, crowd-pleasing dead man's party. More important, the forward-looking slant saved it from being a (brain) dead band's party.