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Boingo Rerun : Pop music review: Danny Elfman leads his band mates in an overly generous but typically lively career retrospective.

October 28, 1995|MIKE BOEHM | TIMES STAFF WRITER

IRVINE — Lovers of tear-jerking Irish balladry might expect otherwise from a parting presided over by a Danny Boy, but followers of the diminutive Danny who leads Oingo Boingo had no reason to be surprised by the lack of sentiment in the disbanding Boingo's three-hour marathon adieu to Orange County on Thursday night at Irvine Meadows.

Oingo Boingo's extreme popularity in Southern California--a popularity that translated to only a few pockets beyond the West Coast--was founded largely on the band's frenzied energy and Danny Elfman's lightly spooky vision of the macabre.

With infrequent exceptions, Boingo's music wasn't about close connections and deep feelings, but about escaping into mock-horrific fantasy and putting up a tough shell of irony and ghoulish humor to keep life's truly horrific realities at bay.

This made Boingo the perfect entertainment for a big Halloween-season bash, a function the Los Angeles band performed at Irvine Meadows, counting Thursday's finale, for eight of the past 10 years.

The same unsentimental qualities made Elfman, the singer-songwriter whose decision it was to break up the band, an unlikely candidate for "Danny Boy"-ish emoting as Oingo Boingo played what by Elfman's count was its 17th concert at Irvine Meadows (the final Boingo shows ever take place Monday and Tuesday at the sold-out Universal Amphitheatre).

"We don't want to get all weepy over it," Elfman, holding true to form, told the near-capacity house of about 13,500 fans during the first take-a-breath pause in a rapid-fire program that saw Boingo play 36 songs. "We just want to celebrate 17 years of being together."

When bands with a more personal songwriting bent break up, their farewell concerts can take on an elegiac cast, with lyrics gaining an added valedictory or bittersweet quality as finality looms. Being bent has always been Elfman's main bent, so Boingo's exit from O.C. was just another Dead Man's Party.

Its main departure from past Halloween shows was its length, with a half-hour tacked on so that Elfman could excavate additional early-'80s nuggets from his bat cave. The only musical nod to finality came in the finale, "Only a Lad" (which Elfman introduced as "the first song we every recorded").

It was a typically light one: Near the end of the song's manic forward charge, Boingo suddenly broke off its helter-skelter pace for several a cappella, barbershop-style refrains of the line "perhaps he'll go away."

More Boingo didn't necessarily make for better Boingo at this going-away party. A lot of Elfman's earlier, less-melodic stuff has a sameness to it, with hurtling, pounding rock-polka beats and a stagy, semi-spoken delivery that smacks of novelty, not developed song-craft.

The show's opening quarter was dominated by messily punkish variants of this style, and the homestretch featured a tighter, bouncier version of speed-Boingo, abetted by peppy, rapid-fire blasts from the band's four-man horn section.

The final half hour or so sent the crowd into such an ecstatic hop-and-jump frenzy that the amphitheater resembled a big bowl of popcorn crackling on a stove top.

The better half of Boingo wasn't always what got the biggest rise from the audience. It was Elfman's more crafted material, which displayed the pop savvy that often creeps in when the manic energy subsides.

Knowing that a lot of Boingo fans come to shows to go boing , Elfman forewarned them about a half-hour mid-set segment of quieter or slower songs, advising them that it might be the right time for a bathroom break.

Those who stayed got a treat, assuming they could appreciate the darker hues and Beatle-esque charms of songs such as "Mary," "Can't See (Useless)" and "Change," all from the band's 1993 release, "Boingo."

With Elfman in fine voice and the band in sharp form, Boingo scored with "Stay," a relentlessly catchy and relatively feeling-filled pop-rocker that is its best song, and with a rousing rendition of the definitive Boingo tune, "Dead Man's Party."

Now that Boingo is on the verge of becoming a dead band (although Elfman promised the party will have another fling on CD and video, with the farewell shows in Southern California being recorded and shot with a souvenir release in mind), it's fair to say that, though far from a great band, it had more than enough good, fun, varied material to stock a standard-length concert, if not a marathon.

It wasn't long on content or emotional impact, but it had great funds of energy and a flair for the visual and theatrical, plus Elfman's sometimes striking melodic knack and his comrades' exceptional musical skills.

Never mind Danny Boy's injunction not to "get all weepy"--Boingo's loss is nothing to cry about. But the better half of its repertoire is worth a nostalgic smile or two.

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