Outside, it's Monday night and rainy. Inside, Cio Cio San takes the Troubadour stage and crashes headfirst into a wash of buzzing guitars and splashing cymbals. Though they're young ( their average age is about 19), they handle themselves as if they were KISS on the final night of their multiyear farewell tour with a sound reminiscent of the Smashing Pumpkins, circa 1991, and Sebadoh at their angriest. Except they aren't angry; indeed, it's doubtful anyone in Cio Cio San has ever really been upset. Four upbeat, churchgoing, clean-cut teens, they met at Yucaipa High School (25 miles east of downtown Riverside), where the group's biggest controversy swirled around guitarist Andy Ralph's song about the girl he bailed out on during his senior prom.
"The weirdest thing is that we never even recorded the song or printed its lyrics anywhere," Ralph recalls. "We just played it every now and then at a few local parties, and people around town figured out its meaning—for some reason, it turned out to be a big deal."
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People take notice of Ralph's lyrics. During live gigs, fans not only sing along with Ralph but also hunt him down to grill him about interpretations. Says Ralph, "The songs are always about girls—it's pretty obvious."
Those "pretty obvious" songs helped the group sell several pressings of its first proper release, the Blocks Demo. But there are signs that success might not come so easily next time: following the pomp-and-circumstance of graduation, three of the four members left town for separate corners of Southern California.
"It was a concern that we all had after [high school] graduation," says drummer Brian Wurzell, who stayed in Yucaipa to attend the fire-fighting academy. "But everything is getting better and better with the band. As long as this is what God wants us to do, we'll continue to do it."
Cio Cio San performs with Fairview, Square and Rooney at the Glass House, 200 W. 2nd St., Pomona, (909)629-0377. Sat., 7 p.m. $5. All ages.