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The Holy Modal Rounders: Bound to Lose (2006)

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After 40 years of unpredictable live shows, drug addictions & breakdowns, psychedelic folk rock legends, The Holy Modal Rounders survived one of the strangest careers in music

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Robert Christgau ...
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David Reisch ...
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Robin Remailly ...
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Peter Stampfel ...
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Peter Tork ...
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Dave Van Ronk ...
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Steve Weber ...
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After 40 years of unpredictable live shows, drug addictions & breakdowns, psychedelic folk rock legends, The Holy Modal Rounders survived one of the strangest careers in music

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Too much fun
4 February 2006 | by (Berkeley, California) – See all my reviews

This starts out as the funniest rockumentary Christopher Guest never made, thanks to Steve Weber, to whom the word "mercurial" doesn't do justice. Weber's on screen antics pale compared to stories of his even chemicalier past: a Fug claims that Weber once treated a toothache by dropping acid. One running joke is that no one can believe Weber is still alive, least of all his long-suffering 40-year bandmate, Peter Stampfel. (The other running gag is that almost everyone thinks the band sucks.) Even before he went straight in the mid-Seventies, Stampfel, the more musically dedicated of the pair, had to deal with Weber's epicurean and Bacchanalian tendencies, which naturally precluded practising.

The movie (which evolved out of, of all things, a documentary about Stampfel's champion and lookalike, critic Robert Christgau) isn't a history, so swathes of Stampfel's and Weber's lives are left unexplored, and inevitably some of these absences are cause for regret: Hurley/Stampfel/Frederick's "Have Moicy!", strong evidence for the existence of collective genius, isn't considered, and the Rounders' mutual ex Antonia is only mentioned in passing. What is there is a depiction of a very odd couple. Early on, they're shown light-heartedly needling each other on stage; later, though, their arguments are weirdly passive-aggressive, like in "Some Kind of Monster". Stampfel obviously has a lot of affection for his pal, but experience has taught that relying on him is inadvisable. Weber's mind is unreadable: what's going on there beside working out where the next drink will come from? Whatever it is, he doesn't let anyone know. Near the end, it's heartbreaking when Stampfel comes to the conclusion that although he'd like to play with Weber again, it's alright if he never does.

You get the Rounders' music or you don't, only be warned that in either case you'll be totally disorientated after a first listen; the best way into the catalogue of the Rounders and friends is still Have Moicy! The soundtrack here includes comparatively well-known classics like "Euphoria", "Boobs a Lot" and "Griselda", as well as rarities like the Holy Grail of Rounderdom, "F--king Sailors in Chinatown" (if the filmmakers are reading this, you must put "Chinatown" on the DVD; this is not negotiable). Stampfel's wedgied funnyvoice (which turns out to be more or less his normal speaking voice) balances Weber's lackadaisical ease. The music evokes Weber's idea that enjoying the present moment is everything, especially if it's lunchtime. But it requires Stampfel's professionalism to sustain the illusion. So in the end, guys, does it really matter that much who wrote those songs?


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