Friday, December 15, 2006
Musician Craig Comstock doesn't have to worry about dealing with prima donna lead singers, irresponsible drummers or lazy guitarists.
That's because Comstock performs all those duties himself in his solo act dubbed This is My Condition.
The key word in the name is My, as he delivers a personal noise-rock symphony by utilizing a drum kit, an electric guitar, a loop device and a microphone.
"I've had people tell me that it's not music, it's art - which I'm completely comfortable with," Comstock says.
It may be considered art, but Comstock claims it is math he is more concerned with when crafting the songs.
"The hardest part is figuring out the geometrics of playing what I'm playing. I often consider it geometry because I have to put a stick here at this time and over here at this other time. If I don't do it right I whack myself in the knuckles," the 37-year-old performer says.
But isn't music supposed to be a collaborative experience?
"No," he replies. "There are plenty of instances where people perform solo. You've got J.S. Bach's 'Suites for Solo Cello.' There you have a whole beautiful body of work composed for one instrument. In that sense you can consider that I'm acting as a composer."
To celebrate the release of This is My Condition's eponymous DVD, Comstock will appear at two venues tonight: a traditional show at The Jackpot Saloon and a headlining slot at Liberty Hall ... sort of.
"It will be the first live show we've had here," says Doug Redding, manager of Liberty Hall Video, which will play host to the atypical gig. " I wanted to break ground and make my mark. I'm never going to be movie star, but I'm going to put on a live show - albeit one that's small and extremely disruptive to the flow of business and my comrades at work."
Redding is a fan of This is My Condition, which he describes as "beautiful noise."
Comstock will set up in the window to the south of the video store's entrance and perform a 20-minute, all-ages set.
"There should be plenty of room for him to play, and for people to come in and be shocked and amazed," Redding says.
Loop to loop
Liberty Hall Video may be among the more unusual venues at which This is My Condition has performed - and that's saying a lot. In the three years since he conceived the act, Comstock has taken his one-man show to New York City and Miami, and overseas to Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands.
"It seems to amaze and excite people everywhere I go," he says.
Live footage for the DVD was captured at Lawrence's Eighth Street Tap Room, and at Kansas City venues The Record Bar and The Sleeper Cellar. The DVD is being released on an Atlanta-based label called Sounds From the Pocket.
Mechanically, Comstock uses a simple loop pedal to lay the foundation for his material. When he puts his foot on it, the device starts recording a sound or riff. When he takes his foot off, it immediately loops what he's just recorded. (He employs no prerecorded music when playing live.)
"About half or so of my songs are based on a single loop that goes along throughout the whole song. If I don't get it right at the beginning, I fix it. At this point, I don't get it wrong a whole lot because I've done it for three years now," he says.
He speculates that about 25 percent of his show is improvised.
"It may seem like more. But I really do have song structures set up beforehand," he says. "Some songs are more mapped out than others. At the base of it they are traditional singer-songwriter songs. I can sit around without any problem and get on an acoustic guitar and sing the songs to you."
A St. Louis native who grew up in suburban Kansas City, Comstock began to explore the indie band scene when he moved to Lawrence in the late 1980s to attend college. (He graduated Kansas University in 1994 with a degree in music composition.)
Like many working Lawrence musicians, he accumulated a long list of memberships in local bands. These include Trout Mask, King Rat, Cadre Begonia, Bend, Chubby Smith and his Orchestra, Suckl, Black Calvin, Many Series, The City Fathers, The Blue Leaves and The Charge Droplets.
"I remember somebody saying that when you've been around a place long enough, and you've been seen and you go out - or in my case you played in a lot of bands - you become a fixture," Comstock says. 'Regardless of whether or not you've done anything memorable, you become famous for no particular reason."