Danny Elfman is playing the Hollywood Bowl for two nights this Halloween weekend. He has frequently, in years past, presided over “Nightmare Before Christmas” screenings with musical accompaniment at the Bowl. Ergo, attendees can expect a heavily “Nightmare”-themed show?
He’d like to dissuade people from that idea, if only to protect some of the younger kids who might be budding fans of “Nightmare Before Christmas” from having, you know, nightmares. (And/or being bored by Oingo Boingo oldies.)
“I just keep saying over and over, leave your kids home. This is not a kids’ show and this isn’t a family show,” he says. “This isn’t ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas.’ The Coachella show had a bit of ‘Nightmare Before Christmas,’ because that’s part of my own past, and I’m embracing that. But I’m embracing it as just one element in a much bigger context, of which many of the songs and images are not family-friendly, as much of my world isn’t. You know, I’ve got the family side of my world and the not-family side of my world. So I keep begging people that are thinking, ‘Oh, I wanna bring the kids down to the Bowl,’ I say, ‘No, no. Wait till next year.’”
Since the Bowl shows Friday and Saturday night are being described by Elfman as an expansion of the sets that he did at the Coachella Festival this past April, it’s a safe bet that Jack Skellington will, in fact, make a solid cameo. But a greater part of the set time will be given over to the dystopian songs and morbid imagery associated with Elfman’s 2021 solo album, “Big Mess,” his return to rock ‘n’ roll after his band split up a quarter-century prior and he moved into the film and TV scoring world full-time.
An orchestra and choir will also be on hand to join the core rock band as he presents samples of his work composing for Tim Burton and other filmmakers, and vintage Oingo Boingo material will be strongly represented as well, often with notably different arrangements. At Coachella, the set included five “Big Mess” numbers, seven Boingo chestnuts and seven film or TV pieces. The Bowl performance will include all of that and much more, with the additional material being about equally representative of the three sides of his career.
“It’s almost doubled” from the festival set, he says. “It’s the same intent of the Coachella show, which is a really insane mix of elements that have no business being on the same stage in the same concert at the same time… We’re in the middle of learning all the new stuff,” he added, a couple of weeks from D-day in the ravine. “The guys are saying ‘It’s almost like we’re learning a whole new show.’ Pulling this together is a lot of work, but fortunately I’ve just got this great group of musicians with me that are totally game and up for it, and the visuals are all coming in. I think it’s gonna be every bit as insane and crazy and nonsensical in its very intent as Coachella was, but just a lot more of it.”
Any clues to offer about the additions made to the show since April?
“I don’t want to preannounce them,”he says, “because if somebody was at Coachella, I’d love them to have surprises. It has relatively the same balance as Coachella, but just enhanced. In terms of the additional 12 or 14 more songs — something like that — it’s a lot of new (“Big Mess”) songs that we didn’t do at Coachella, and three more film suites as well. It’s also learning, for this group, a lot of the older songs, and trying to give a new spin on some of those too. There’s a couple of reinventions that will surprise some of the Boingo fans.”
He’s also picking tiny bits of material back off the Coachella cutting-room floor. “There’s a few pieces that I cut down for Coachella, because of the time limit, that we opened up a bit. Before Coachella I was literally like, “Oh my God, 12 seconds out of this song and 90 seconds out of that and 17 seconds…” We had to make it exactly 58 and a half minutes, to the second, to leave one and a half minutes of leeway to be within a 60-minute absolute cutoff. So I was making all kinds of little adjustments for this absolute time crunch, and I undid a few of those adjustments — not big deals, but little snips that felt a little awkward.”
On Friday, Elfman unveiled a new music video for one of the “Big Mess” songs, “Happy,” or more properly the Boy Harsher remix that appeared on the spinoff album “Bigger, Messier.” That’s the tip of the iceberg of a lot of video pieces that Elfman commissioned especially for his Bowl appearance.
“Because really that’s what got me excited about Coachella in the first place,” he says, speaking of the visual elements. It was all about that. Paul Tollett (president-CEO of Goldenvoice) and my manager, Laura Engle (of Kraft-Engle Management), had been trying to get me down there for over a decade, probably close to 15 years: ‘Come on, Danny,’ and I go, no, no, no. Finally, Laura got me to go down there and it’s when I saw those big screens, that’s where I got excited and said ‘I wanna do this,’ because I’m very visually oriented. Part of me still is attached to the theater that I started in, and so having this theatrical element of these big visuals got me very excited. So I’ve been working super hard on developing more and more of that to follow along with many of the new songs.”
So he did just say “Wait till next year” when it comes to a full-scale “Nightmare Before Christmas” at the Hollywood Bowl or thereabouts, right? (Last year, he put on the show with Billie Eilish and other guests at the Banc of California Stadium, instead of the Bowl. He is doing it this year, but in London, in December, with Phoebe Bridgers as a guest Sally.)
He hedges just a bit. “Well, I mean, I don’t know that I’ll be doing ‘Nightmare’ next year — but next year or the year after, I’m sure we’ll do it again. It is the 30th anniversary coming up, so I mean… Let me put it this way. I’ll be doing ‘Nightmare’ somewhere (in 2023). Will I be doing it in Los Angeles? It’s very possible, but I’m not sure. But this isn’t ‘Nightmare Before Christmas’ at the Bowl is all I’m saying. This is primarily a rock show.”
But Halloween obviously still works for him, in any of his live guises, out of tradition, and out of sheer love. “Look, Halloween has followed my career way before ‘Nightmare Before Christmas.’ With Oingo Boingo, Halloween was the time of year that we always had our biggest show, even as early as 1984, 1985, so I’ve never been able to get away from the connection with Halloween, even if I wanted to — which I don’t really want toI had just had a brief pause, and then ‘Elfman/Burton’ (concerts) started, then ‘Nightmare Before Christmas’ started, and I just gave in… Halloween is gonna be always my night. But I don’t have a problem with that. You know, as a kid, it always was, at the end of the year, never a question it wasn’t my favorite night of the year.”
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