by Jack St. Clair
Fatso Jetson is one the most highly regarded bands ever to come out of the Coachella Valley. They are credited with being forefathers of the “Desert Rock Scene”. They have successfully toured Europe multiple times, which has included top spots at several large festivals. You wouldn’t expect to see them playing on a four band bill as the first band. But this Friday night at The Hood in Palm Desert it will be a special occasion. That special occasion is getting to play on the bill with Jello Biafra and The Guantanamo School of Medicine.
Jello Biafra is a punk rock legend, having fronted the Dead Kennedys. He is credited with bringing political content to punk rock in the late 70’s. His fervor for political issues is perhaps what fueled him to run for mayor of San Francisco in 1979, and run as a Green Party candidate for president in 2000. He has taken part in other bands, including Lard, with members of Ministry and Jello Biafra and the Melvins (or The Jelvins as they are sometimes called) with the afore mentioned Melvins. His current band, the Guantanamo School of Medicine includes Billy Gould of Faith No More on bass and Ralph Spight of Victims Family on guitar.
“I’m super stoked to be playing with Jello Biafra and Ralph Spight,” says Mario Lalli, guitarist and co-founder of Fatso Jetson. “The Dead Kennedy’s were a huge influence on anybody that was into punk rock coming out of California and Jello has always been a huge influence on me. I’ve been into all of the projects he’s done since.” Lalli says that Biafra has seen Fatso Jetson shows and picked up a few of their records. The genesis of this show came from Guantanamo’s guitarist, Spight, whom Lalli has known for some time. Upon seeing each other when Fatso played with Mondo Generator in San Francisco, Spight mentioned to Mario and the band that Guantanamo would be playing in Palm Desert in November and that they should be on the bill with them. A few phone calls later and on the bill they were. “We’re just excited to play with those guys,” says Lalli. He promises that Guantanamo will not disappoint. “The musicianship in the band is up there. It’s going to be a really good show.” The night will also include performances by Death Hymn Number 9 and the desert’s own You Know Who.
While this weekend is a thrill for Lalli, he also has other things to be excited about. He is looking forward to the new year. Both of his kids are reaching adulthood. His daughter will be moving to Chicago in December and his son, Dino, who plays guitar in Fatso Jetson, will be graduating high school. Dino, 17, has been playing with Fatso Jetson now for a few years and it’s been a fulfilling experience for father and son. “It’s really everything you’d imagine,” says Lalli. “Music has been so rewarding for me. I’ve always wanted friends and family – people I love – to get it. It’s just like anybody. If you’re a surfer or skateboarder or a golfer or whatever, you love something so much, you want your kid to experience it.” Though Lalli bought his son a guitar when he was 7, he never forced it upon him and it took a few years before Dino found it himself. Once Lalli realized his son had progressed up to his own level – “Technically, as a guitar player, beyond me” – he decided to bring him to Fatso practices. Organically this led to him becoming a permanent addition. “I never really asked the rest of the band if it was ok,” says Lalli with a laugh.
Dino has traveled to Europe twice with the band and Mario is proud of how he has matured into a professional musician, challenging the other members to be on their toes. The rest of the band has embraced Dino, though occasionally there can be awkward moments. Lalli recounts a recent conversation with Fatso’s drummer, Tony Tornay. “I said ‘What do you think about this? Do you like it? Be honest.’ Tornay replied that he loves it, but there can be those awkward father/son exchanges at practice. “I said, ‘Sorry, but that’s just gonna happen.’” He says that “For sure the honeymoon is over – which is kind of messed up using that analogy for a father and son. I want him to be responsible, accountable and professional. But first and foremost I want him to have fun. I don’t want to burn him out. I need to give him his space. But if he wants to go on the ride, he’s welcome.”
With Fatso Jetson on the cusp of celebrating 20 years as a band, Lalli plans on 2014 being quite a busy ride. ”We’ve never really had that opportunity since I’ve had kids,” he says. “It’s been number one to get to work in the morning or in the evening and bring home a paycheck. I’ve held off doing a lot with the band.” He’d like to do a West Coast tour that would include traveling up California and swinging down through Denver (his hometown) and including stops in Nevada, Arizona and maybe even as far as Texas. “The idea would be to kick it off in the desert with an old time generator party. No fancy stages. Just a few lights and my generator. Call it “Twenty Years Later”. And then go tour. If the rest of the band is down and ready to go, then I’m excited about 2014 because we’re going to be able to get out and travel and be a real band for a change.”
Until then, if you want to see Fatso Jetson live you need to be at The Hood this Friday. But get there early. It’s going to get crowded quick and they start at 9 pm.