No for an Answer Return to Orange County

When hardcore punk goes hardcore casual
Jesse Untracht-Oakner

An Emphatic Maybe
Onetime straightedge stalwarts No for an Answer return to Orange County

Here’s a good one: Back in 1989, the Huntington Beach straightedge band No for an Answer arrived at my apartment in New York City. Most of the guys seemed excited to experience the Big Apple for the first time (days later, I found them marveling wide-eyed at exposed rivets on a subway platform), but their jet-lagged drummer asked to stay behind at my place to sleep. I was also bushed, as well as hoarse from a band practice of my own, so I stayed behind to nap, too. I drew a map to the nearest pizza place, the remaining band members departed, and I retired to my room. For some reason lost to the ages, the front of my apartment was filled with junk, and there was only enough room for the drummer to slumber on the floor directly in front of the door.

I’d just fallen asleep when someone knocked on this door. I groggily tiptoed so as not to wake the sleeping drummer and had to step over him to peer through the peephole. Through this fisheye lens, I found myself staring at a military man in full dress outfit and medals.

“Yes?” I called out in a hoarse croak.

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“Mister Smalls?” the military man asked, hat in hand. “Mister Dick Smalls?”

Mister Smalls. My roommates and I had spent hours calling toll-free numbers from TV commercials and ordering free mailings to the most ridiculous names we could think of. Somehow, impossibly, one of these youthful larks had resulted in an Army recruiter at my doorstep. I was too bleary to think up a plausible excuse.

“One moment,” I rasped. The door had to be opened with a screwdriver, and only after I’d jimmied it free did I remember that I was wearing my plaid pants with the word “LOVE” written in magic marker on one of the legs and an arrow pointing to my crotch. We stood in my doorway, in full view of the prostrate body of No for an Answer’s drummer, and the military man gave a thoroughly convincing pitch for enlisting in the armed forces. The man was a pro. When the band members returned an hour later, not a one of them believed my tale. I would have thought less of them if they had.

Such were NFAA’s dual roles in my life; they were both wide-eyed naïfs and grounded skeptics. The band’s career spanned several such divides. Operating in the artistic wake of mid-1980s OC straightedge band Uniform Choice, NFAA were the first California act on Revelation Records (and one of the few unpolished groups released by the label, which soon turned to more professional aesthetics). They also moved easily in social circles, like mine, that weren’t terribly friendly to straightedge bands.

Much of their appeal belonged to singer Dan O’Mahony. As a vocalist, O’Mahony never rose above mere competence, and his staccato bark seemed equally suited to boot-camp drills. But as a performer, O’Mahony possessed a rare combination of charisma and conviction, the same qualities that made scattershot Christianity palatable in the Bad Brains or B-movie silliness so compelling in the Misfits. Who else could have taken the cheesiest of all song titles known to man, “Just Say No,” and almost kind of made it work? Dan for an Answer, that’s who.

Since No for an Answer’s demise, O’Mahony has sung for an assortment of punk bands—Carry Nation (with NFAA guitarist Gavin Ogelsby), 411, Voicebox, Speak714, John Henry Holiday—that repeated close permutations of the original sound: clean chuggity-chuggita guitars, anthemic choruses, hup-two-three-four vocals. It’s a durable template, but not open for much experimentation.

Sunday’s show will feature the band in their original incarnation and should include some Carry Nation songs. A re-formed No for an Answer toured Europe in the early ’90s, but this current one-off (to benefit former boxer Genaro Hernandez in his struggle with cancer) will mark their first Orange County show in nearly two decades. It also marks the band’s first show since O’Mahony took up drinking sometime in the past decade, as well as the first show since he owned and operated the Ten Count saloon in Huntington Beach. In light of this, the band are probably guaranteed some razzing from the audience. Likewise, hecklers are guaranteed some crushing counterjabs by O’Mahony—the man is a pro.

No for an Answer with A Chorus of Disapproval, Headfirst and Blackspot at Chain Reaction, 1652 W. Lincoln Ave., Anaheim, (714) 635-6067; Sun., 7:30 p.m. $10. All ages.

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