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When you listen to Cochinas, your mind will go to dirty places. Not like that! We're talking a hot, crowded warehouse show; a beer-swilling house party; a dive bar that doesn't check IDs—the kind of places where rules appear to be few and the disaster caused by a teenage flash mob is imminent. It's the kind of party where this OC/South Bay quartet feel most at home playing their wig-wearing, irreverent, knock-around, three-chord punk.
Confined to the velvet stage of Fullerton's Continental Room, guitarists Maria Angelica Yurko and Ana "Banana" Chong get a little cagey midway through the second set of their Monday-night August residency. Polite clapping from the growing audience doesn't appease them, so they decide to up their game for a better reaction. Laughing, slamming into each other, dog-piling and tripping over chords never looked like so much fun. Bassist Emilio Venegas Jr. (wearing a beret with a long blond wig) and drummer Anthony Gamez (looking akin to a green-haired Pippi Longstocking) get caught in the crossfire. Magically, the raw chord-ripping and gang vocals à la Bikini Kill stay relatively intact and still sound better than plenty of carbon-copy local acts who don't have half the stage presence.
"We're a fun bunch to watch, I've been told," Venegas Jr. said."There's one show we played, Banana did the splits while playing guitar. She was whipping this guy with her hair, and he actually seemed to like it."
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The band of late-twentysomethings definitely get around. An unmistakable presence in the Fullerton and San Pedro music scenes, they employ boundless energy (and a gloriously dingy, gray Chevy Astro van, dubbed the "Cochina Mobile") to keep on a steady diet of shows, including their current Continental residency. Under blood-red lights, songs such as "Bitch Be Cool" and "Omaha" are given a respectable venue, which Chong and Yurko quickly defile with their empowering, skirt-raising abandon and riffs that vacillate between sugary, coy garage pop and shrill, early Misfits flavor.
Venegas Jr. has the technical classification for their sound: "theatrical, surf-pop, dirty, bubblegum punk."
Theatrical? Remember the wigs? The idea for the boys to play dress-up came from Chong and Yurko's initial desire to start an all-girl band. Apparently, this was an easy fix. Fullerton vet Yurko befriended Chong and Venegas Jr. in the South Bay area by constantly running into them at parties and shows, eventually agreeing to jam. After a brief rotation of drummers, Chavez and his machine-gun fills were added to the mix, on the condition he could rock a cheap, green wig like a man.
"We put the wig on him, and it was like Cinderella—as soon as the wig fit right, we knew it was meant to be," Yurko says.
Recently, the band popped their touring cherry after a little less than a year together, playing a barrage of shows in Oakland and Sacramento (winning support and a place to crash from Bay Area punk demigod No Bunny). Their five-song EP, released independently, is a teaser for a forthcoming album with a few 7-inch split records in between.
Their multilayered sound, highlighted by Chong's doo-wop backing vocals and Yurko's trembling, musical-theater pipes, elevate the snotty, breakneck attack of "Kittens" into a tuneful, record-ready gem.
After thriving inside a pocket of hard-charging upstarts in the house-party punk scene, Cochinas are taking their sound into some classy, OC establishments. Just so long as they don't forget to slut it up once they get onstage.
"There was one show, I remember, we forgot our wigs," Venegas Jr. says. "Worst show we ever played."
"Yeah, the wigs definitely give us our mojo," Gamez says.
This column appeared in print as "Slutty and Successful."