Danny Elfman review, Coachella 2022: Composer’s ‘strange little show’ is among most memorable

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Danny Elfman, 68, performed one of Coachella 2022’s most unusual sets – as fans praised his ‘strange little show’ online   (Getty Images for Coachella)
Danny Elfman, 68, performed one of Coachella 2022’s most unusual sets – as fans praised his ‘strange little show’ online (Getty Images for Coachella)

Danny Elfman is by some margin the oldest artist performing at this year’s youth-focused Coachella. However, on the basis of his eclectic show at the festival’s Outdoor Theatre stage late on Saturday night (16 April), his age is the least unusual thing about him.

For a start, there can be few 68-year-old composers around who would choose to perform topless so as best to show off a heavily tattooed torso. More pertinently, there are few composers of any age who could make a full orchestra sound like a garage punk band, as Elfman often does throughout his hour-long set. But Elfman – a master of the macabre, whose dark, eerie scores are practically synonymous with Tim Burton’s films – has never been your typical Hollywood songwriter

“Hello Coachella,” he says, not long after playing deranged 2021 single “Insects” and then a section of his bombastic orchestral score from 2002’s Spider-Man. “My name’s Danny Elfman, and I’ve got a strange little show for you.” He’s not kidding.

The show draws from all areas of Elfman’s long career – including material from his lively, genre-shifting former band Oingo Boingo, as well as a decent selection from his new record Big Mess, an album he says showcases “the two sides of me that are always fighting for space”.

The most crowd-pleasing moments, however, arrive with selections from Elfman’s long and varied career composing for film and television. There are dark and whimsical songs from Edward Scissorhands, Batman and Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, and the crowd applauds appreciatively when he changes the last line of “This is Halloween”, from The Nightmare Before Christmas, to: “What is this... Coachella town?”

They’re even more thrilled when he plays undoubtedly the most famous piece of music he’s ever composed, the zany theme to The Simpsons, which he augments with a squalling guitar solo. Lisa would be proud of his virtuosity.

He closes with solo track “Happy”, complete with his own demented face 3D rendered on the big screen, and the urgent existential punk of Oingo Boingo’s “Who Do You Want To Be?”, with lyrics updated to reference the Kardashians and Kanye West.

Elfman’s booking was undoubtedly a gamble, but it’s one that pays off many times over. He’s an artist with an impressive, varied and well-known back catalogue, but one who’s a long way from typical festival heritage act.

Saturday night’s performance delivered many sides of Danny Elfman – from the eiree and macabre to the lighthearted and eccentric – while giving Coachella the best of both worlds.

Follow the latest updates from Coachella 2022 here.

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