Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Some Holy Modal Rounders:
Ain't Dead Yet

book cover

And in all fairness, i must give an urgent WARNING about Weber. He steals any money or drugs he can get his hands on. Religiously. Be warned.

Or so said walking songbook Peter Stampfel's notes to 1975's Alleged in Their Own Time, the Holy Modal Rounders' first album for the folk label named after them five years before. In 1979, though, he rejoined Steve Weber for Going Nowhere Fast, released in 1981, when his old partner came in from Oregon for a few dates and a never-released double-LP. After that, an acerbically dried-out Stampfel would occasionally remember him with a rendition of "Lonely Junkie": "My past is a bummer/My future's a drag/I live for the moment/And the moment is scag." Yet there they were at the Bottom Line last Friday for a reunion engineered by Chicago's Dysfunctionells.

The 57-year-old Stampfel looked his age and acted 14--even more manic than usual. Weber, who is 52, looked between 60 and 90 and acted as if all things considered he was very glad he'd returned from the dead. A very skinny six-five, hair and beard completely white, he could have been a moonshining geezer out of Barney Google, an effect heightened considerably by the fact that he has no teeth. Seated throughout, his guitar more fluent than his vocals, he was all arms, legs, and attitude. When Stampfel sang one he didn't know, he threw up his hands and shouted, "I feel so useless!," and when a Dysfunctionell joshed about a "Theme From Exodus" encore, Weber misheard him and muttered, "Excellence is completely out of my grasp." But he never stopped hamming up a set that included his "Sea of Love" and "Chitlin' Cookin' Time in Cheatham County" as well as a "Flop Eared Mule" the two oldsters transformed into both "Ain't Dead Yet" and "Over the Hill." Many stayed for the second show.

Weber had cadged a pint of vodka backstage and seemed calmer. Early on he wandered through a lament about the pills his girl went on after rehab that messed up her period and now he can't make her come, but she stills tastes good yum yum. "I made that up on the spot," he told us. "The wet spot," Stampfel chimed in. "The G spot!" Weber crowed.

Village Voice, July 23, 1996