Just as Halloween is a time for kids to indulge their fantasies and become Presidents, Transformer robots and such, so it is that the reasonably successful members of Oingo Boingo get to become megastars for a brief span each witching season. The long-lived Los Angeles-based group rarely hits the charts and typically plays mid-size concert halls even in its home town, yet many more-famous acts would be hard pressed to sell the 30,000 seats Boingo has for this year’s annual two-night Halloween bash at Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre.
“Oh yeah, it’s personally my favorite holiday of the year,” said Boingo bassist John Avila. “I think we are one of the perfect Halloween bands, and Irvine is the biggest night of the year for us.”
While he largely credits the sold-out shows Friday and Saturday to the group’s years of building up a county following, Avila said the Halloween lure of Boingo’s comically macabre dance music isn’t limited to the local geography.
“Orange County has always been a big Boingo area, but we’ve found that a lot of people come from out of town. It’s become a real tradition. In San Francisco we had people telling us, ‘We’ll see you in Irvine.’ We just heard the same thing in Salt Lake City, ‘See you in Irvine. We’re flying in for that show.’ ”
If the shift between the band’s everyday level of success and the Olympian status bestowed on it yearly at Halloween weren’t enough, Avila and drummer Johnny (Vatos) Hernandez have yet another identity to contend with. Along with non-Boingo guitarist Michael Tovar, the pair make up Food for Feet, a band that has been causing its own ruckus this year on the Southland club scene. The group’s self-titled EP, released recently on Orange County’s Dr. Dream Records, has been garnering airplay on KROQ and more than 100 other stations nationwide. The trio will appear on Nov. 9 at Cal State Fullerton.
The 32-year-old bassist describes Food for Feet’s music as “very aggressive, loud and hard. You’ll hear influences from all different parts of the world: King Sunny Ade would be the main one on the African side, and there are Latin influences too, along with the obvious love for rock. And it is music for feet. Food for Feet is really what the music is all about.”
Guitarist Tovar has worked with performers from Otis Blackwell (composer of several Elvis hits) to the German progressive band Triumvirat. Avila’s credits include work with that band and with East-L.A.'s El Chicano, while Hernandez’s pre-Boingo credits range from be-bop jazz to Helen Reddy.
Although Boingo front-man Danny Elfman’s busy schedule scoring films (his recent work includes “Batman,” “Midnight Run” and “Scrooged” and he is presently scoring a Clive Barker film) has allowed Avila and Hernandez the time to get Food for Feet moving this year, it is far from a new band.
“Johnny, Michael and I have known each other from way before Boingo, from when we were all growing up in San Gabriel. The three of us all liked to get together to play, and we started out jamming in each other’s garages. We started working as a group in 1983, playing underground clubs on the eastside and Hollywood.”
Along with Elfman’s recent film projects allowing them more time, Avila also feels 1989 was fated to be Food for Feet’s year.
“I think in the first two years we played as a band, we made $85 each, total, and we’re talking about some 50 gigs to make that amount. The way we looked at it, we were playing for free. That was the exciting part, the attitude of ‘If you’re not going to pay us anything, then we’re going to play anything we want.’
“At that time, when we’d be packing up to leave a club at 2:30 in the morning, our little joke was to always say, ‘Well, it could be a hit in ’89.’ ‘How much money did we make? $5? Well, it could still be a hit in ’89.’
“Then ’89 actually comes around. The band had gotten a lot more focused, and was sounding a lot better. We’d played almost a whole decade, and we thought it was finally time to document it. That became the EP.”
Avila doesn’t feel that Oingo Boingo’s Orange County popularity had any bearing on Food for Feet signing with a county label.
Avila admits that his and Hernandez’s being in both groups has caused some confusion. “Because we’re doing Food for Feet there’s this rumor that Boingo is breaking up, and that couldn’t be further from the truth. Both bands are alive and well.”
It remains to be seen how alive and well Avila and Hernandez will be after this coming year, when both band’s schedules promise to heat up. Boingo has an album due out early next year (new songs “Lights Go Out,” “Peel Away the Skin” and “Breakdown” will probably be featured in this weekend’s shows) and is planning video projects and a large tour to follow.
Oingo Boingo will play Friday and Saturday at Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre, 8800 Irvine Center Drive, Irvine. Friday’s show is sold out. Lawn seating for Saturday’s performance (at 8 p.m.) is still available for $19.50. Parking: $5. Information: (714) 855-6111.