Danny Elfman Scores Big: Danny Elfman is best known for two very distinct things – he was the frontman for oddball new wave band Oingo Boingo, and he has scored enough movie and TV shows to put him close to the John Williams heights. He had kept those two sides of his career very separate, until earlier this year when he performed the two weekends of the Coachella Festival and performed a set that stunned not only the people in attendance, but also the many thousands that watched it online.
Beloved Boingo gems such as “Dead Man’s Party” were performed alongside songs and scores from Tim Burton’s Batman and Batman Returns, Edward Scissorhands, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Alice in Wonderland, Sam Raimi’s original Spider-Man, and of course, The Simpsons.
“It was the most really terrifying thing I’ve ever done in my life, because I put it together as a concept in 2019 as this mosh of stuff that had no business being on the same stage at the same time,” Elfman says by phone. “The promoter had been trying to get me there for a decade and I finally went, and when I saw the screens, I got really excited by the potential. Because I like visuals. I put together this concept and working on it in 2019, I was like, ‘I don’t know if this works at all,’ and then it all canceled. I was like, ‘I guess I don’t have to worry about it.’ Then two years later, I hear, ‘Coachella’s back,’ but we don’t know if we’re involved. It’s all different acts, and different headliners. I said, ‘Well I don’t have to worry about it, maybe it’s just as well. Then suddenly we get the call ‘We’re on!’ And I go, ‘Shit!’ I’m right back to where I was three years earlier.”
As it happens, the sets were an immense success, with Elfman certainly one of the most talked about Coachella artists of the year. The videos were shared like crazy, as people were left flabbergasted at the music that performed side by side.
“In rehearsals leading up to it, my sense was I was about to explode in a trainwreck of my own design,” Elfman says. “That it was an impossible show, it made no sense – the simple ability to get 50 musicians on that stage miked up and playing with a 35-minute set change seemed ridiculous in the extreme at the last second, not to mention ‘what is this thing?’ I felt like I was probably making the worst decision of my life, just based on this impulsive whim. In the end, it was great, but I guess that’s the crazy thing about trying something that is so off the meter of ‘this is gonna work.’ Literally pacing around backstage before the first show, I felt like I was about to walk out to a firing squad.”
The concept, Elfman says, was to mash the songs together with barely any room for between-song banter. Just pummel the audience with songs from different worlds – a “continual overload of one thing after another.” The fact that the experiment was so successful is what led him to want to do it again, at the Hollywood Bowl this Halloween.
“I’ve never done anything in L.A. under my own name,” Elfman says. “In Los Angeles, it’s been either Oingo Boingo years ago, or as Jack Skellington with Nightmare Before Christmas. So this is my first time being me, billed as me, in Los Angeles, and I, of course, was apprehensive because that’s how I’m wired. But evidently it’s going well and I’m really excited about it.”
The Oingo Boingo concerts at Halloween in Los Angeles became a local tradition, a genuine event, for many years and it’s a holiday that Elfman has become synonymous with. Of course, scoring so many Tim Burton movies helps.
“I never can get away from Halloween,” Elfman says. “It’s probably 15 years of Halloween Boingo shows, but now I’m doing almost a decade of Halloween Nightmare Before Christmas. They picked up where Boingo left off. So again, I’m on Halloween. Me and Halloween, we’re simply joined at the hip. Originally we were thinking of doing Nightmare Before Christmas this Halloween again, and they said, ‘Let’s do this Coachella-plus show.’ I said, ‘Sure.’ It wasn’t like a conscious, I wanna do this on Halloween, thing. It just came down that way. I think they were holding Halloween for me anyhow.”
Anyone who was at Coachella and was delighted by Elfman should seriously consider attending a show at the Bowl, not least because the sets will be twice as long.
“Coachella shows are very short and tight,” he says. “They’ve got to be 60 minutes exactly. On the nose. I edited things down so there was a minute and a half of wiggle room exactly. Now of course, when you do a concert, an hour is a short set. So I added another 45 minutes or so to the show.”
It’s not all about nostalgia, too; besides Boingo and the movie music, Elfman will be performing songs from his recent Big Mess album, which came out in the summer of ‘21. There’s a remixed version on the way as well.
“When I did Big Mess, it was unplanned,” he says. “It was just really a frustrated explosion of quarantine energy. I didn’t know if I was even going to release it. It just happened. It’s gotten a really good reaction, and now the remix album – being able to work with all these different, really inventive artists and not to mention collaborating with some heroes of mine, Trent Reznor, Iggy Pop, etc. It’s a treat that I never would have expected in a million years, really.”
That’s Danny Elfman’s life – a glorious, schizo jumble of new material, old singles and film scores. Classical music and rock ‘n’ roll slammed together, and it works. The man himself concludes appropriately with:
“It’s been a crazy year, let me just put it that way.”
Danny Elfman Scores Big: Danny Elfman performs at 7:30 p.m., on Friday, Oct. 28 and Saturday, Oct. 29 at the Hollywood Bowl.
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