Larger Than Life

Look closely at almost any significant rock band‘s background, and you’ll find an instigator, a critical link without whom the chain would not hold. Led Zeppelin had Roy Harper. Nirvana had King Buzzo. And Queens of the Stone Age, arguably the best American melodic hard-rock band since Cobain exited in self-disgust, have guitarist-singer Mario “Boomer” Lalli.

“Boomer has this quality I‘ve been searching for since the moment I saw him, and that is, Boomer’s unhecklable,” says Queens‘ Joshua Homme. “There could be a wide array of reasons to heckle Boomer, but it’s impossible when you watch him play. I‘ve seen people not like it, but I’ve never heard anyone go, ‘Bleh, shut up.’ Because you believe it.

”It‘s for real.“

Born in 1966 as Mario Jr. and tagged with the nickname Boomer, Lalli was raised in Palm Springs, where his parents, a pair of opera singers, ran an Italian-themed restaurant called Mario’s (”Where They Sing While You Dine“) with Mario Sr.‘s brother Tullio. At Mario’s, which relocated to Pasadena earlier this year, Mario Sr. and Edalyn lead a small group called the Mario Singers in belting out two 30-minute shows (three on weekends) every night for the diners.

”Our family had a restaurant in the desert for 30 years,“ says Boomer. ”For 20 of those years it was very successful, and summers off were just party time. But now there‘s a lot of big corporate money doing the restaurant thing there, so a unique little place like we had, it’s tough to make it work. We just thought, Let‘s go for it in Pasadena.

“And as great as the desert has been for our music, it was a terrible place to play music.”

Since he was 16, Boomer has been doing music in the desert that didn’t exactly fit the format at the family restaurant -- or anywhere else. Taking a page from a punk rock friend in Los Angeles, Boomer and his bandmates built their own place, out in nature: far from the city, far from cops, far from the mainstream.

“We grew up on Aerosmith, but that was Fantasyland. Then we saw D. Boon and Mike Watt and the cats in Black Flag and the guys in Redd Kross and Saccharine Trust, and we saw these guys were guys like us! They‘re just dudes. And skateboarding too had a lot to do with it, because it was all about Find a place. Find a pool, bail it out. You gotta make your own culture. It’s like cheese: You gotta make your own.”

Just 18, Boomer had become a legendary figure in the Low Desert -- for his appearance (a “bearded, dreadlocked, gnarly, pissed-off-looking burly dude in a trenchcoat,” says Kyuss‘ Brant Bjork), for his van (called the Provoloan, with the name of Boomer’s band, Across the River, spray-painted across it), for his different bands‘ music (punkish) and for the outdoor parties he organized with nothing more, he says, than “trash cans, a good generator with a voltage regulator so it doesn’t blow everyone‘s shit, some ice chests and some word of mouth.” Boomer had even been to L.A. to do music with fellow desert dudes Alfredo Hernandez and Scott Reeder, and befriended some of the guys at SST, the renowned Left Coast punk label.

Eventually, Boomer, Hernandez and Reeder moved back to the desert, where they continued doing Across the River, which Hernandez remembers as “a heavy thing, with a lot of bluesy-type beats and a punk rock edge. People would come up and say, ’You guys sound like Soundgarden.‘ I didn’t know who that was . . .”

Across the River had drawn interest from SST, but a combination of poor timing and miscommunication meant that it was not to be.

Boomer: “Things happened. I got married, had a couple kids, and we got head over heels involved in the family business. So: priorities.”

Across the River‘s unwillingness to tour meant they were also unlikely to land a recording contract. The band broke up, with Boomer and Hernandez soon forming an instrumental outfit called Englenook with bassist Gary Arce. Then there was Yawning Man, another band with Boomer, Hernandez and Arce. Boomer’s cousin Larry joined on bass at some point, and Arce was in and out, playing guitar. It was this Boomer-fronted band that Homme, Bjork and future Kyuss vocalist John Garcia saw most often while they were teenagers.

With two Yawning Man albums recorded but left unreleased, the closest most of us can get to hearing this band‘s music is on Kyuss’ final album, And the Circus Leaves Town, released in 1995, at which point the band was composed of Homme, Garcia, post-Obsessed Scott Reeder and Hernandez. The album‘s penultimate track is a gorgeous cover of Yawning Man’s tranquillity-in-the-sandstorm statement “Catamaran.” Placed next to the heavy testes-crushers that make up most of the album, it‘s a sign of respect, of making plain an artistic debt to some important template-builders.


But back to the early ’90s. Just as Kyuss was beginning its career in earnest and drawing attention to the desert-rock “scene,” Boomer had changed places again. The Lallis had stopped organizing generator parties after violence began to seep in, and played many of their shows in the L.A. area. And they were making a new kind of music: Boomer had formed an instrumental jazz group with Hernandez, Larry Lalli and Arce called the Sort Of Quartet that combined Zappa, Dolphy, Miles Davis, Black Flag and South American rhythms.

“When all the bros in the desert were goin‘ to the parties to see Kyuss play, we were listening to jazz,” says Boomer, laughing. “We had immersed ourselves in the real underground music scene in Los Angeles -- playing at places like the Alligator Lounge, with Nels Cline, Joe Baiza, Universal Congress Of. That scene is all about making music; there’s no thought about career, selling records. And when you respect that, it changes the way you think about the music industry and about music.”

In the mid-‘90s, the Sort Of Quartet began to wind down. Simultaneously, Boomer and Larry started yet another band, the more rock-oriented Fatso Jetson, with drummer Tony Tornay.

“I’d come back to appreciate punk rock and rock & roll,” Boomer says. “I‘d got a little bored thinking about what we’re doing and not just getting into the energy of it, which is where it started in the first place.”

After all these years, Boomer and Hernandez were finally releasing studio albums, through SST, which put out four records by the Sort Of Quartet as well as the first two Fatso Jetson albums.

Post-Kyuss, Homme had kept turning the spotlight toward Boomer. In June 1998, he invited the Lallis to one of his Desert Sessions, where artists gather at Fred Drake‘s studio in Joshua Tree and woodshed new material. One of the tracks they recorded at this session was the obscure chestnut “Eccentric Man,” a stormer of defiant differentness by the ’70s British prog-blues band the Groundhogs. When you listen to Boomer sing, “Call me an eccentric manBut I don‘t believe I amThe people think I’m crazyBut I know I‘m wiser than all the sages,” the connection deepens. To have someone like Boomer Lalli -- a 6-plus-foot-high mountain in thick-rimmed glasses, driving a hot-rodded purple ’67 Cadillac hearse and happily laboring in obscurity for two decades -- you see the conceptual maneuver Homme is pulling. Boomer doesn‘t just sing the song -- he embodies it.

The same Desert Session resulted in the recording of Homme and Lalli’s “Monster in the Parasol,” which would be re-recorded for Queens of the Stone Age‘s major-label debut, 2000’s Rated R. The next session saw the debut of the best Lalli-Homme collaboration yet, “You Think I Ain‘t Worth a Dollar, but I Feel Like a Millionaire,” which was re-recorded by Queens for the lead-off amp-destroyer on the band’s Songs for the Deaf, released this past summer.

Eventually SST stopped issuing new albums from any artist on its roster. An Indio music club the Lallis founded -- Rhythm & Brews -- didn‘t pan out. Fatso released two more albums -- one on the late Bong Load, one on the now-defunct Man’s Ruin. Sort Of Quartet ended. And the Lallis moved with the family restaurant to its new Pasadena setting this past summer. They‘re optimistic that their relative proximity to L.A.’s club scene will allow them to perform more often and with less burden on the players.

Boomer has reactivated Yawning Man with Hernandez and Arce. And in September, Homme released Fatso‘s fifth album, Cruel & Delicious, on his new Rekords Rekords label. It’s a cranking Fatso affair that weaves psychedelia, punk, blues, Dick Dale and heavier metal with prog unison diddles, jams and vocals that will remind some listeners of D. Boon. And then there‘re the lyrics and song titles . . .

“No one’s better with titles than Boomer,” says Homme. “And his lyrics are so good. There‘s a song called ’Vatos on the Astral Plane,‘ about a guy who’s a friend of ours who went to jail for dealing speed. If you don‘t know the guy, it’s a great song that conveys something to you. But if you do know the guy, it‘s a real tearjerker.”

“We’ve been accused of being an in-joke band,” says Boomer. “But everyone takes themselves so seriously in this ‘human drama.’ Life is so whimsical, most of the time. You‘re always gonna be in a battle between your brains and your nuts.”


Where other people might become dispirited due to the lack of commercial or critical reaction to their work, the Lallis see nothing but success: a few disappointments, sure, but how does that stack up against a zillion successful parties and club shows, a positive impact on a younger generation of musicians, nine album releases . . . ?

“And we did all of that without touring,” says Boomer. “It’s always been the creative outlet that was important to us. Selling records isn‘t important to us. Honestly, it’s . . . what we do. It‘s the only thing where you feel like, ’I‘m really doing something here with my life.’”

Fatso Jetson‘s Cruel & Delicious is available at


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