In Celebration of Fatigo’s Return To Phoenix

Preface:  I first heard Fatigo three years ago, it was at a release show for the magnificent When In AZ… compilation that really served as the catalyst for the current scene we have in front of us today. That night I talked with Mike Montoya and we made a “fun pact” to hang all night–additionally, I pressed him for information on when they would release their third album. Apparently our conversation that night made all the difference in the world, according to a conversation I had with Montoya this past weekend at Los Dias De La Crescent.  At that point his band had all but disbanded and he realized through my enthusiasm that Diego must see the light of day. Rarely have I felt so honored than in that brief conversation. Nevertheless, this recent evening, the event and watching Fatigo live made me remember just why I love them so much. Montoya has since relocated to Bisbee and now brings his terse thirty minute sets to folks much further south than us, but I’m sure once the weather cools we will see a bit more of them around town and we might even get a fourth album. The article below, in edited form was originally published in the February 2010 issue of JAVA Magazine, but since it was their last album released, I wanted to remind the local world of just how great this band is and why they still clearly matter. Enjoy.

Of Innocence, Experience, Polar Bears and Rambunctious Dogs
Fatigo Unleashes Diego

The first time I heard Fatigo, I was in my jeep with the top down driving west through the Sonoran Desert in the middle of the night.  It was a cover of Back Ted N-Ted’s “Young Lovers”, the final song on 2009s amazing local charity effort When In AZ… music compilation. A tale of vampire lunacy and zombie fantasy, I was so blown away that I had to pull over to the side of the road and listen to it again. It was less than 72 hours later at a promotional show for the compilation that I got to see Fatigo perform live for the first time. If I could have pulled my Jeep over at the Yucca Tap Room and listen to it all again I would have. Immediately I was drawn to the band, the vision and work of one Mike Montoya and I was hooked. Fatigo has something.

Fatigo literally has something, aside from an ephemeral “Je ne sais quoi” and an amazing sound, theyhave unveiled and released their third album, the brilliant and all too brief Diego. Clocking in at just under half an hour, Diego plays out like one of Fatigo’s brilliant live sets, short, poignant and transformative. Sporting one of the most unusual sounds in Phoenix, Fatigo blends the best elements of classic rock and indie pop entwined with Spanish spice and hints of Mariachi. Mike Montoya, writer/composer/vocalist/guitarist of Fatigo describes it as “If the Beatle and Los Lobos had a baby,” and that’s not too far from the mark. The band itself is now an ever changing cast of musicians surrounding Montoya, many from other local bands like Robin Vining of Colorstore or Derrick Ross and Amy Lopez Ross from Nowhere Man And A Whiskey Girl.

Diego plays out like a mini-masterpiece, an evolved continuation from 2001’s debut Pero Los Chivos!! and 2005’s Menso. Track for track, Diego is brilliant from start to finish and it astonishes the ear how much territory, musically and lyrically, Montoya and his band of revolving musicians can cover in just eight short tracks. While it may well leave you wanting even more, the short format does leave the listener satisfied and the depth each track approaches more than makes up for the brevity of Diego. It plays like and EP, but fills you up like an album.

“El Siete Ocho”, named for the time signature of the song, opens with an aggressive guitar assault as Fatigo starts up their new album with total presence. Soon horns are blasting, the piano is banging and we enter into yet another tale of Fatigo’s mythical polar bear and the story of how he became exiled in Arizona, after acting up like a teenager. “There’s something wrong with your son, you tell him better be careful” the head of the pack tells the polar bear’s father. This song’s story actually precedes the tales of the “White Bear” from Menso and some day fans of Fatigo may well be treated to a full on musical of the entire polar bear saga, which now totals six songs, one of which is still unreleased.

While the title of Diego’s second track, “Cheech & Chong” would suggest that this is about pot smoking comic duo, Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong, it’s actually, just a name that stuck and doesn’t have much to do with the comedians. That said, one could read into the lyrics a bit and perhaps tie it to them with “two lives dissolved by one thing, count all your cash another day. “I wanted a song with a vampire low-rider groove,” Montoya commented and in that it succeeds, so much so that it’s being used in an upcoming documentary about Japanese low-rider culture that actually features Cheech Marin.

The title track is one of the great surprises on the album: Montoya, very nearly croons the lyrics over a lounge lizard backing track, that evokes the sounds of Latin American records from the 1960s and early 70s, think Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass, Stan Getz’ Brazilian records with Jobim and Gilberto or even Tito Puente. It is the tale of a very real, rambunctious dog that is the consummate escape artist. The singer comforts himself that “there’s worse things than white hair on the sofa,” and that this is “another mess, another day.”

Practically, the center piece of Diego, “Poor Lonesome Twin” is perhaps the most engaging song of the entire package, which is saying something if you consider that it’s an old time country waltz, that evokes the early records of Willie Nelson or Marty Robbins. The story of twins who bickered and fought in the womb, then the first twin born is kidnapped, much to the others enjoyment: “It’s not like the womb out here, they’ve got something they call fear.” This song will stick with you for days, weeks possibly and you will wake up with it quite a few mornings. “It’s a funny story,” Montoya added, “Because it was inspired by these roommates I had in Albuquerque who were twins that were always fighting.”

“Ghost Talk” was inspired by a night spent in a haunted hotel in Jerome, AZ and, it is one of the darker songs on the album and the interplay between piano and guitar is captivating. This is one of two tracks that were recorded at Mesa Community College, “I started writing that in Jerome,” Montoya said. “With images about a sailor ghost that ended up somehow in Jerome.”

“Curse this blue screen I want your smile, where is all this beauty from,” opens  “Come Undone” a song as much about innocence as it is about loss, it is one of the most compelling numbers on the album.  Lyrically it may well be the most engaging, “death trap poison apple tree,” indeed. “It’s a coming of age story,” Montoya explained, “filled with images from living in Spain, lots of images of youth, growing up and getting devastated for the first time, that first great heartbreak.”

After a Spanish lyric over a beautiful slow strummed guitar opens the song, “Stinky”, the horns kick in and we are drawn into a story of stealing away to a forbidden river where the woman in the song warns “of a fish with the face of a man.” The story is one of Mike Montoya’s great grandmother’s ranch in Yuma and spending weeks at a time there in his youth, where he and his brother would steal away with inner tubes despite warnings against such things. And yes, his great grandmother did warn them once of a fish with the face of a man that she saw once in the river and because she would rarely smile, she had a “look on her face like a chemical taste.”

The final track, “Still Drifting” closes the album out perfectly, albeit all too quickly for someone who could listen to Fatigo all day long. This may well vie for  the most complex lyrical story along with “Come Undone”. It is both about the relationship of a young Goth couple and the love between the sun and a tree, told from the perspective of the Sun. The story is ultimately a tragic one, as the couple dies when lightning strikes the couple beneath the very tree taking all three and leaving the sun to lament the loss in “blackened leaves, spiked collars and sleeves burnt to Black Celebration.” Amazing.

Diego is a brilliant album and soon, everyone within reading distance of this article will be able to pick up their own copy of it. “Locally the physical album will be available at Stinkweeds, Zia, and Revolver Records,” he said, “Digitally through , I-tunes and 20-40 other different online sources.” Fatigo is the vision of Mike Montoya, a conceptual collective more than a band, Diego is the vision of Fatigo, a conceptual collection of innocence, experience, polar bears, a kidnapped twin and a rambunctious dog. For a great time, treat yourself to Fatigo, treat yourself to Diego and treat yourself right.

Official Fatigo Website