If you’re ever going to see celebrated film composer Danny Elfman perform live, it may as well be at the historic Hollywood Bowl during Halloween weekend. Elfman’s musical roots trace back to the early days of the LA punk scene as frontman and chief singer-songwriter in the iconoclastic new wave band, Oingo Boingo, and today he’s responsible for scoring some of the biggest films in Hollywood – the most recent being Doctor Strange In The Multiverse of Madness, the third-highest-grossing film of this year. And you’d be hard pressed to find a songwriter more synonymous with Halloween, thanks to his association with Tim Burton and their cult classic stop-motion collaboration, The Nightmare Before Christmas.
Entering the enormous amphitheatre venue on this balmy autumn evening, it’s apparent that a night of near-mythical status is about to take place, as people in Beetlejuice and Jack Skellington costumes line up next to people in drag and all manner of weird and wonderful outfits and a palpable sense of festivity fills the air. Hollywood has shown up for their hometown hero in full force tonight, and when Elfman takes to the stage with his supergroup of 30+ players from the worlds of both rock and classical music, the scene is set for the Halloween party to end all Halloween parties.
But a Danny Elfman show isn’t just for Halloween – or Christmas, for that matter. This is a stage show for the ages. And the setlist is as varied and eclectic as anything this writer has witnessed in 20+ years of attending concerts. As Elfman himself says, “I’m going to be mixing a lot of stuff that shouldn’t be mixed together…it doesn’t make any sense. But then neither do I. So, for better or worse, this is me.” And tonight’s show proves once and for all that Danny Elfman is one of the most singular, original, visionary artists of the last century.
His body of work is unparalleled, and the collection of world-class musicians that he’s assembled for tonight’s show (shout out to Josh Freese and Wes Borland who both excel this evening) flip seamlessly from quintessential Tim Burton films scores such as Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, Batman, Edward Scissorhands, Mars Attacks, and of course, The Nightmare Before Christmas, to classic Oingo Boingo tracks like Just Another Day, Only a Lad, Nothing to Fear (But Fear Itself), and the sensational Dead Man’s Party, through to the idiosyncratic industrial stomp of his recent solo records and songs such as Happy, True and Everybody Loves You.
Elfman's remix album, Bigger. Messier, coincidentally features Trent Reznor as a guest vocalist, and Elfman gives Reznor a run for his money in the dark industrial orchestrator department. Then the band go straight into a rocked up remix of The Simpsons Theme and you’re reminded that there’s no one on the planet you can compare him to. He even looks otherworldly, prowling the stage like a Frankenstein mix of David Bowie, a tribal warrior and The Joker. And in terms of the imprint that he’s made on both alternative and mainstream culture, Danny Elfman stands alone.
Aside from a performance at this year’s Coachella festival, and the first of these two shows at the Hollywood Bowl, he confesses to having not played live in almost thirty years, and what those three decades away from the stage have allowed him to do is amass the most insane setlist imaginable. His songs are culturally ubiquitous, but we’re just not used to experiencing them all live under one roof with accompanying mind-bending visuals…until now.
Simply put: if the music Danny Elfman has created over the last forty years has touched you in any way, this is a live show you do not want to miss.