Oingo Boingo’s 1995 retirement as a band came as a shock and disappointment to many fans who didn’t know bandleader Danny Elfman had been suffering from severe hearing loss. He still pledges never to return to the stage to front a rock band, all of which might help explain Boingo’s uneven touring history.
The concert listing resource setlist.fm suggests the group played fewer than 100 concerts during its entire 16-year existence, often at theme parks and midsize venues around Southern California. So Las Vegas fans had to consider themselves lucky when the Aladdin Theatre for the Performing Arts was the setting for two shows, the first of which was on June 14, 1993.
I had enjoyed seeing Oingo Boingo live a decade earlier by driving down to see the second US Festival near San Bernardino, California. I can still picture the dust cloud from all the dancing that day. Driven partly by the fact that Las Vegas’ only commercial “alternative” radio station (KEDG) was still on the air, the opulent theater behind the Aladdin filled up with eager smiling faces ready to see what Elfman and his troupe had up their sleeves.
The band featured a small horn section but went with a decidedly guitar-driven sound for this outing. As easy as it was to focus on Elfman, this was a band comprised of exactly all the right parts. Guitarist/conductor Steve Bartek carried a lot of weight, while drummer Johnny Vatos made it difficult not to jump out into the aisle to dance. They were so very tight, so rhythm-intense and fun that nothing seemed out of place, and the energy level never waned.
Boingo opened with future single “Insanity,” followed by the appropriate “War Again.” The rest of the set featured all the hits we had been enjoying for years on the radio and a grand rendition of The Beatles’ “I Am the Walrus” as a bonus. The country-tinged “We Close Our Eyes” changed the pace at just the right time, a little over halfway through. There was virtually no banter with the crowd between songs, giving the presentation a frantic-but-controlled Ramones-like pace.
The aisles of the lower section really did become mini-dancefloors for a few moments, with fans getting in their best ska moves before security would try to usher them back to their seats. But by the time the band launched into “Dead Man’s Party” at the end of the night, all attempts at controlling the frenzy had gone by the wayside and it looked like the band was enjoying it even more than we were. Oingo Boingo also included Las Vegas on their swan-song tour of 1995, 10 days before their Halloween grand finale at Universal City.
A few weeks ago on the 20th anniversary of that farewell show, Bartek joined Elfman onstage by for a special rendition of “Dead Man’s Party” at an orchestral “Nightmare Before Christmas” concert at the Hollywood Bowl.