On a pleasant summer evening in Chula Vista last week, some 20,000 music fans packed into North Island Credit Union Amphitheater to witness a unique, special, and rare performance they won’t soon forget.
Singer, songwriter, and composer Danny Elfman’s brainchild production, “From Boingo to Batman to Big Mess and Beyond,” exceeded expectations by delivering an auditory and visual experience unlike anything I’ve ever seen. As the show’s title suggests, the concert merged material from Elfman’s early years fronting widely admired new wave/rock outfit Oingo Boingo, his recent solo music, and his highly-popular and acclaimed work as a film/TV composer into a wildly-entertaining spectacle.
With an army of 50 performers packed on stage, the 70-year-old Elfman somehow pulled off incorporating a rock band, full orchestra, and choir, with a big screen cinematic visual element to create a non-stop musical extravaganza highlighting his unbelievable career achievements.
Excited fans – many dressed in Elfman-movie themed costumes – were keenly aware how lucky they were. Until last year’s Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, it had been 27 years since Elfman had taken the stage to perform Boingo material (the last being Oingo Boingo’s legendary 1995 farewell show).
Because “From Boingo to Batman…” received overwhelming positive reviews from the two 2022 Coachella shows, two additional special performances were added over Halloween weekend at the Hollywood Bowl. However, for 2023, only two shows were scheduled – in Chula Vista and Irvine.
The evening began with a shirtless, buffed, heavily-tattooed Elfman taking center stage, guitar in hand, erupting into “Sorry” from his second solo album, “Big Mess.” It was the perfect song to immediately incorporate every feature of the musical army his creative vision had crafted. The core band blasted away loud and heavy, two percussionists on either side of the drum riser slammed away furiously, violinists whipped their bows back and forth at lighting speeds, the horn section boomed, the choir added bold enchanting aesthetics, and behind all that craziness were psychedelic visuals on the big screen. Wow, it was overwhelmingly breathtaking! With so much going on, I was somewhat flustered trying to decide what and where to watch! It was chaotic, it was bizarre, it was magically brilliant.
The first cinematic offering of the evening was the theme from Spider-Man. Under the proud watchful eye of a silhouetted Elfman, the orchestra and choir performed the popular Marvel superhero theme while clips of Spider-Man swinging around New York City high-rises played on the screen. A moment that tugged at the heartstrings arose with the performance of “Breakfast Machine” from “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure” – a fitting tribute to beloved actor Paul Reubens who recently passed away.
Soon a double whammy of back-to-back popular Oingo Boingo hits, “Just Another Day” and “Grey Matter,” ignited the crowd into a frenzy of gleefully singing and dancing. It became clear you could categorize the audience into two categories: either fans primarily of Elfman’s illustrious movie compositions, or hardcore OG Oingo Boingo fans yearning for a rare taste of Elfman/Boingo who happened to like the movie stuff too. I had incorrectly assumed that the many younger fans in attendance would only be familiar with Elfman’s movie scores. But several fans in their 20s told me they were most eager to hear their Boingo favorites. SoCal parents are raising their kids right!
In rapid-fire succession without segues, we were treated to a non-stop back and forth cadence of movie scores and rock tracks. With a unique whimsical melodic musical style often incorporating elements of dark humor and gothic elements, Elfman is probably best known for his collaborations with director Tim Burton. Fittingly, numerous Burton scores were highlighted: “Batman,” “Edward Scissorhands,” “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” “Beetlejuice,” and “Alice in Wonderland” (and previously noted “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure”).
The rock band killed it all night; it’s no surprise the group included all world-class talent. The standout was drummer Ilan Rubin (Nine Inch Nails, Angels and Airwaves), who displayed incredible versatility by both pounding the crap out of the kit but also fulfilling the more delicate and complex passages required by Elfman’s unpredictable nuanced compositions. Guitarist Robin Finck (Nine Inch Nails) was prominently featured and on fire all night – what an impressive player. A second guitar virtuoso was up-and-coming female star – the very talented Nili Brosh (Dethklok). Accomplished bassist, composer, producer Stu Brooks (Lady Gaga, Dub Trio) rounded out the all-star cast on bass guitar.
A major sentimental highlight for Oingo fans was Elfman’s sweet introduction of the conductor, asking everyone to welcome, “Somebody very special… Oingo Boingo’s original guitarist Steve Bartek, to play a song that we used to play many, many times together.” The crowd roared its acknowledgment, Bartek smiled and then kicked into the opening riff of “Dead Man’s Party.” What a moment! The parade of Oingo Boingo classics continued with encores “Who Do You Want to Be” and the epic “No One Lives Forever” – the raucous finale inspiring both movie score fans and Oingo Boing diehards to merge into one united tribe to sing and dance their hearts out all together in nostalgic bliss celebrating the incredible multifaceted career and talents of Danny Elfman.
This show was one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen. We can only hope for more opportunities to see this production in 2024, so keep your eyes out!