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"I'm 43," says Catfish Comstock after he sets a heavy Mesa Boogie amp down on the backstage loading dock. "And I'm still able to do this." But the strain of heavy lifting shows on his face. Comstock crosses the parking lot to fetch an even heavier Marshall cab and amp head from the back of his truck.

Meanwhile, a man who is painted from head to toe roams about the parking lot.

"That's what he does," says Comstock of Dive Bomber's front man/singer. "That's why we call him Nomad." The man they call Nomad has spent the last several hours, as he does before every show, covering his entire person with colorful, intricate designs. Comstock calls out to the painted man just as he disappears into the late night gloom of downtown San Diego. "Don't go too far away."

It's a Thursday night. Dive Bomber is headlining a bill that includes tribute acts ranging from the somewhat misguided to the partly exceptional. There's a Bon Jovi tribute, for example, that is fronted by a singer who is conflicted about his gig and instead channels Poison's Bret Michaels. The Roth-era Van Halen tribute has a great singer and a great bass player, but a not-so-great Eddie or Alex.

"We're actually the only band playing tonight that's not a tribute," says Dive Bomber bassist Rob Pane with a puzzled expression.

Indeed, they are not a tribute act. Dive Bomber are a local hard rock band very much in touch with their Faith No More roots, a trio of drums, bass, and guitar fronted by a muscled cartoon hero in technicolor who happens to be an exceptional vocalist.

"He actually lived in India in a cave for a year," Comstock says of Kris Keyes, otherwise known as Nomad. "He's in a place all by himself."

I had met the Nomad earlier in the evening. He looked fearsome at first but was actually quite friendly with much high fiving and hand shaking. After, I secretly looked to see if any of his paint had come off on my hands. It had not.

"I forget the name of it," says Comstock. "It's, like, professional body paint. We buy it from a clown makeup store."

Comstock says the Nomad was a member of the only unsigned band that played Woodstock, that he painted himself orange for the event, and that thereafter, minus body paint the Nomad wasn't quite himself on stage any more. After, he devised the explosion of color that now graces his NFL-fit man-shape.

If a reader has no recollection of hearing Dive Bomber, there is a good reason why. "We play most of our gigs in Los Angeles," Comstock admits. "And every time we do, Nomad is on the [Sunset] Strip by noon, completely painted up and shaking hands and passing out flyers all the way up to show time at 10 p.m."

He pauses as if to consider the volume of Nomad's boundless energy. "That's what gets us so much attention."

Dive Bomber do schedule local gigs as well, but the lure of L.A. keeps them away from home more often than not. "We get to play in front of national acts there in front of hundreds of people." For example, Dive Bomber will open up for Lita Ford later this month at the Marquis 15 in Corona. "You gotta go where the scene is." But San Diego gigs have their own distinct advantages too: "All my friends are coming to see us tonight."

Comstock was serious about guitar from an early age. "I flunked out of school because of guitar way back in the day." He lived and breathed guitars and suffered the life of austerity common to most start-up band leaders. To supplement his income as a musician, he did what so many rockers before him have done: he worked in sales at Guitar Center and Guitar Trader.

Dive Bomber dates back to 1996 but the current lineup has been in place only for the past five years. Kris Keyes (aka Nomad) came from Blind Justice and Gargantua Soul. Rob Pane ("we call him Pain") plays bass and drummer Chris Guiterrez -- Toad -- gigged previously in the Glory Stompers.

Catfish Comstock (his given name is Ray) says he writes much of the band's music by coming up with a single lick that the rest of the band will later enlarge upon. The Nomad is Dive Bomber's lyricist. "Once we have something like a song together," Comstock says, "then, Nomad will come in and figure out a melody line." Otherwise, he calls the band guitar-driven. His influences are Hendrix, Sabbath, Maiden. "The riffs have to be interesting."

What does the future, as imagined by Comstock, look like for Dive Bomber? "To do what everybody wants to do -- make a living playing our music. Travel the world." He says they plan to release their second album, as yet to be recorded, at next year's Comic Con where the Nomad is something of an underground celebrity. "He has no fear," Comstock says. "And I've never been happier about the music we're making right now."

At Brick by Brick May 25. Uncle Junkie and Low Volts also perform.

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