the unofficial uncle tupelo archives 

A World-Weary Uncle Tupelo Brings Gloomy Tunes to TLA

Dan DeLuca

Philadelphia Inquirer, February 24, 1994

With Uncle Tupelo, you can feel the world closing in.

Both bassist Jeff Tweedy and guitarist Jay Farrar sing as if they've seen too much. At the Theater of Living Arts Tuesday, their eyes were closed, and their voices didn't hold out much hope for more than temporary escape. ''Whiskey bottle over Jesus," Tweedy sang, "not forever, just for now."

The Belleville, Ill., band's music, too, relates Rust Belt claustrophobia. Such songs as "No Depression," "Watch Me Fall" and "Chickamauga" found no way out - though "The Long Cut" hinted at a chance at the end of the tunnel. And when Tupelo's guitars, bass and drums hit the wall in despondent, noisy bursts, it was easy to see why the band has found an audience with the grunge crowd, despite rather unhip taste in old-fashioned song forms.

Tuesday, the addition of fiddle, mandolin and steel guitar player Max Johnston, gave the band the versatility to pull off the countrified songs on their major label debut, Anodyne (Reprise), with impressive clarity. And the taut, finely paced set was brought to a perfectly cathartic close with a version of John Fogerty's "Effigy" that erupted with suppressed fury.

Joe Henry opened, and was disappointing. As a writer, Henry is capable of capturing a fine sense of melancholy and mystery, but not since his 1990 album Shuffletown has he established instrumental settings as intriguing as his lyrics. Tuesday, his bland vocals and always predictable mid-tempo roots-rock arrangements fell together in an undistinguished morass.

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