Halloween 2018 is upon us and in OC, we love everything that goes bump in the night, especially if it’s meant to give us the heebie-jeebies, or scare the living bejesus out of us! In the world of ‘80s music, there’s one band that’s always been synonymous with Halloween, and this year, they’re coming back to the OC. Who is this irresistible creature who has an insatiable lust for the day of the dead? It’s a familiar name, Oingo Boingo Dance Party.
Tonight, something wickedly good is coming our way. Johnny Vatos is bringing that traveling circus of sight, sound and the weirdest part of our mind’s eye to the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano. If you haven’t seen Oingo Boingo on Halloween, call it a pilgrimage level must-see event. Honestly, there are a ton of bands out there that are Boingo cover or tribute bands, but it’s just not the same. There’s nothing like the original, and Dance Party is as close as we’ll get to seeing Boingo again!
Every good story has to have a good beginning. This one, it began in ’72 with an eclectic ensemble that was more of a performance art troupe known as The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo. Formed by Richard Elfman (Danny’s older brother), the name was inspired by an Amos & Andy show called The Mystic Knights of the Sea. They gained a very nice SoCal following after a winning appearance on The Gong Show in ‘76. As time went on, Danny took over as the leader of the band. Back then, he loved the sound of the times; new wave and 2Tone ska genres were at the top of the list. He loved bands like the Selecter, the Specials, Madness, and XTC.
Then it happened–they re-shaped themselves and emerged as a high-velocity new wave / rock and ska band in ‘79. There was one other change, they went with a shorter name, Oingo Boingo. Elfman was supported by one of the most dynamic sounding bands ever. The band did it all back then, they were on TV shows, they played huge festivals and movies…, we loved their music in movies. That’s why about this time of the year, we always hear calls to have Boingo added to the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame ballot.
It’s the sign of the times; we can’t do anything these days without receiving social media posts that just exist just to annoy us. One positive that’s come out of the Twitter-sphere, it’s brought back deserving bands to the HOF discussion. Calls for Boingo’s HOF induction come from the heart, and the number of hits they had that shaped the soundtrack of our lives. Two of their most memorable projects were their soundtrack to Weird Science and Back to School. Boingo became a mainstay for larger-than-life shows on the West Coast, but for whatever reason, they weren’t as popular east of the Mississippi. The other positive thing that came from social media is that the band is now as popular as ever.
Back in the day, Boingo was notorious for their Halloween shows at Irvine Meadows; those shows have become entrenched in myth and lore. Years of touring finally caught up to them, once their sabbatical began, Elfman turned full-time towards writing film scores. Some of his projects include Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, Corpse Bride, Batman, Fifty Shades of Grey, and The Nightmare Before Christmas just to name a few. Other bandmates, like John Avila and Johnny “Vatos” Hernandez, joined a band called Food For Feet.
They also formed the rhythm section of Tito & Tarantula. Vatos also appeared in films such as Back to School in ‘86, Midnight Run in ‘88 and Quentin Tarantino’s From Dusk Till Dawn in ‘96. Avila has produced several projects for a variety of very successful bands. Whereas Steve Bartek has kept himself busy as a composer writing music for films such as Tales from the Crypt, Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion, Mission Impossible and Good Will Hunting. He also works from time-to-time with Elfman.
Circling back to 2005, Vatos put together a Boingo tribute show. It included former Boingo bandmates Steve Bartek, John Avila, and Sam “Sluggo” Phipps. Boingo version 2.0 included front-man Brendan McCreary. Back then, Brendan was working with his brother Bear on scores for the re-vamped mini-series, Battlestar Galactica. Other projects Bear worked on include the very popular cable series on STARZ called Outlander, and AMC’s The Walking Dead. He also won an Emmy for his main title of “Da Vinci’s Demons”. The McCreary brothers are huge Boingo fans, and before you knew it, the McCreary’s were in. Brendan took over the reins on lead vocals and they haven’t looked back ever since.
With the success of the re-vamped Boingo, there were whispers surrounding Elfman and his potential reprise as the band’s lead. In early 2007, those whispers came to an end as Elfman announced there would be no Boingo reunion. Danny has developed irreversible hearing loss over the years and is worried that playing live could adversely impact his hearing even further. Nobody can blame him for taking a back seat on this one. Meanwhile, the band blew up again. Due to legal issues, the band’s name has had a few iterations. After the realization he wouldn’t be coming back, Elfman gave Vatos permission to use the name Oingo Boingo Dance Party. No other band on the planet has that distinction.
It’s very difficult for bands to reform without the entire original band and not misfire at some level. There are a few exceptions; there’s Annabella Lwin of Bow Wow Wow, Dave Wakeling of the English Beat or Axl Rose playing with whoever. To put this in context, one of the most known idioms is “All Good Things Must Come To An End.” Geoffrey Chaucer said that, clearly, Geoff didn’t know Johnny Vatos. Every rule has an there’s an exception, and Vatos is definitely that exception. With Elfman’s blessing, the nucleus of Oingo Boingo Dance Party includes original bandmates, Steve Bartek, John Avila, Sam “Sluggo” Phipps, Carl Graves and Vatos. They are our favorite Halloween band ever. Many of their fans remember seeing them at the US Festival; ask anyone who saw them back then and has seen them now, they’ll tell you that Vatos and the boys are just as entertaining as ever.
What Boingo fans love about McCreary is that he brings his own flavor to the band. McCreary is NOT Elfman, and he doesn’t try to be. That’s the mistake all these tribute bands make, they try to be something they’re not. Brenden makes no attempt to mirror the style of his hero. On stage McCreary is himself and nobody else. As a byproduct of being original, it gives a fresh sound to songs we know and love. Over the last two decades, I’ve been fortunate to have seen both versions of this band–and I say this with utmost respect to Elfman–what McCreary brings to their fans pays homage to their legacy. Make no mistake, McCreary is a showman; it’s like seeing the type of performance you would see if you’re old enough to remember what going to an Earth, Wind and Fire show was like. That’s the highest compliment I can give any front-man.
Seeing this band is like taking a DeLorean to the deepest parts of your memory. You can relive songs like “Grey Matter”, “Who Do You Want To Be”, “Only A Lad”, “Ain’t This the Life”, “Nothing Bad Ever Happens To Me”, “Violent Love”, “Just Another Day”, “Wild Sex (In The Working Class)”, “Weird Science”, “Nasty Habits”, “Not My Slave”, “We Close Our Eyes”, “No One Lives Forever”, “Dead Man’s Party” and “Goodbye-Goodbye”. Vatos is as good as ever on drums, Bartek (lead) and Avila (bass) are electric, while Carl Graves brings it together on keys. The band has other contributors that fill in depending on the show, they are Doug Lacy, Woody Aplanalp, Mike “the Spike” Glendinning, Freddy Hernandez, and Felice Hernandez. What stands out is that incredible brass section. Brian Swartz, Sluggo, and Wendell Kelly provide a sound that OC ska bands respect. It’s just another reason why SoCal music fans love this band so much.
It’s tough to repeat your glory days, and sometimes, bands deserve a bad rap for not living up to who we think our heroes should be. Here’s the skinny for all Boingo fans, that band is no more, and it will never be again. Just like the phoenix, it must burn to emerge. Oingo Boingo Dance Party has resurrected that fire inside all their fans. This band is not just full of good musicians, they are good people too, and they do right by their fans. On any given night, they try very hard to make their fans truly happy, that’s the mark of greatness. When you see Oingo Boingo Dance Party, it’s a carnival atmosphere, people dress up and adults turn into kids again, at least for one day. This Halloween, check out this band while you can. It’ll be an experience that you can only see once in a lifetime… maybe twice if you’re over 40.