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POP MUSIC REVIEW : If You Want Oingo Boingo, Don't Look to Doug and the Mystics

September 25, 1995|JON MATSUMOTO | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO — On paper, the strong connection between Doug and the Mystics and Oingo Boingo is obvious: Three of the four Mystics are Boingo members, and leader Doug Legacy has played with Boingo as a sideman.

Artistically, though, the parallels are more tenuous. At the Coach House on Friday night, Doug and the Mystics occasionally exhibited the sort of musical eccentricity that long has marked Boingo. But mostly, the quintet's vision and style were its own.

That may come as a disappointment to longtime Boingo fans who may be searching for a replacement for their quirky heroes.

(Next month, Boingo embarks on a brief farewell tour that will cap its 17-year career, which has elicited adoration in and around its home base of L.A. but yawns nearly everywhere else. Fittingly, it all will come to an end with the band's traditional Halloween night bash, being held this year at the Universal Amphitheatre.)

Legacy does share some creative similarities with Boingo leader Danny Elfman, who is dissolving the band so he can devote more time to his highly fruitful film compositions, and who is known for his somewhat macabre lyrical bent and oddball musical sensibilities.

At the Coach House, Legacy's similar qualities were evident during a performance of "Junk Car," a humorously creepy ditty about a young woman's attempt to establish a show biz career while living out of a dilapidated automobile.

And Doug and the Mystics played several instrumentals that could have fit hand-in-glove into some of Elfman's typically surreal film scores. Playing the steel drums with great dexterity, Legacy led the band through several dramatic-sounding numbers. A hyperkinetic steel drum reading of a familiar circus tune brought to mind some of Elfman's scores for director Tim Burton.

But as a front-man, Legacy is no match for the madcap Elfman, who is the defining figure in Boingo. A skilled musician trained at UCLA, Legacy was reserved and amiable in a low-key way. His songs and his vocals tended to be rooted in more traditional rock sources than are such wiggy Boingo dance favorites as "Dead Man's Party" and "Only a Lad." Blues, soul, reggae, funk and plain old-fashioned gut-bucket rock all reared their heads during the Mystics' 90-minute-plus set. Legacy even strapped on an accordion for a few zydeco-flavored exercises.

What was missing was a core of truly top-echelon tunes. Though listenable and professionally crafted, most of Legacy's songs tended toward the anonymous. When a number really came alive, it often was because of the crack musicians playing it. The Boingo-bred rhythm section, John (Vatos) Hernandez and John Avila, proved both mighty and nimble.

*

A spotty but somewhat promising performance by Homer stirred memories of mid-1960s pop-rock. The nascent band from Orange County, which formed in March and was second on Friday's bill, specializes in mixing sweet melodies with punchier rock 'n' roll textures.

At this early point, the quartet needs to further hone its instrumental skills. It had some difficulty navigating the wide dynamic ranges in some of its songs. Plus, the vocals, shared by guitarist Martin Borsanyi and drummer Jahsper Charles, weren't always up to the group's stronger material.

But Homer did showcase several lightly engaging songs. And in Charles it has a likable figure whose charisma and humor helped balance the diffidence that seemed to envelop the other group members.

Another band from O.C., Ostracized, opened the show with a rockabilly-based set. The trio didn't quite have the instrumental and vocal chops necessary to make its music stand out. But it's hard to criticize a band this earnest and young. A few of its members look barely old enough to drive. It seems that Ostracized has plenty of time to develop.

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