the unofficial uncle tupelo archives 

Tupelo Cuts Its Shocked Tour Short

Eric Puls

Chicago Sun-Times, November 6, 1992

For the hard-travelin' rock band on the road, granted three wishes, the list might go like this: fresh guitar strings, ice-cold bottles of beer, and newly laundered socks and T-shirts.

Introducing the genie.

"I may have to set down the phone to fetch my clothes out of the washer," warns Uncle Tupelo bassist Jeff Tweedy, who is in a Maine laundromat sallying between interview and rinse cycle.

Uncle Tupelo was one-fourth of Michelle Shocked's "Arkansas Traveler" jamboree (sort of a Lollapalooza without the electric guitar) before resigning three weeks ago. Tweedy says the group was unhappy with the character of the tour after The Band had been dispatched due to its refusal to join in the performance of a certain song at show's end.

"We weren't fired, as I've read in other papers," says Tweedy, "and we didn't quit the tour as an act of solidarity with The Band. We just felt that the tour was misrepresented after that and we resigned.

"Up until (The Band's firing), we were enjoying the tour. Getting to play long acoustic sets was a change for us. The auditoriums we were in had great acoustics and the audiences were very quiet, very attentive, and that was a cool change from our usual crowd."

Uncle Tupelo's usual crowd consists of beer-sopped students, prone to bucking about during the band's ferocious live set, yet Tweedy and guitarist Jay Farrar seem distanced onstage from the throng, apt to momentarily shut down the volume anywhere in the set to lovingly run through an A.P. Carter song or an old Gram Parsons number.

"Power chords are overrated," says Tweedy. "When Michelle called us to play on her album, I think she thought of us as more of a folk band, meaning it as it was once defined, a band that played the folks. I think that's half right because on the other hand, we're a pretty insular band."

That insularity was punctured recently when Mike Haidorn, the Belleville trio's drummer and friend since high shcool, left the fold to raise a family.

"Obviously Mike will be missed, but our new drummer, Bill Belzer, was chosen because he fit in so perfectly," says Tweedy. "We had braced ourselves for a long, excruciating selection process and then Bill auditioned, like third or something, and we just knew right there and then."

The band's last album, "March 16-20, 1992" (Rockville), ungainly titled for the sessions' recording dates, foreshadows Heidorn's departure. Primarily acoustic guitars, banjos, mandolins and violins, "March" uses Heidorn only for occasional brushwork or light drumming.

"Honestly, that had nothing to do with Mike's leaving," says Tweedy. "We were set to record this as an acoustic EP. Peter (Buck, R.E.M.'s guitarist and the disc's producer) wanted to work with us on (1991's) "Still Feel Gone," but scheduling snafus took over, so he offered to help with `March.' "

The sessions bloomed into a glorious album. Farrar and Tweedy sing with utter confidence and conviction; their own compositions such as "Wait Up" and "Wipe The Clock" boom as deeply as the age-old tunes "Moonshiner" and "Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down!"

The songwriters have honed their concerns - confusion, despair and ultimately benign resignation - into a plate-glass facet that reflects all too well the country's mood, especially that of those beckoned as the middle- and lower-class voters.swirl in velvety guitar strings.

"Sandusky, Ohio," explains Tweedy, "is a city, we for some reason, seem to end up in whenever we're touring. We like it because they have a really great amusement park. There's just something about a summer evening and the colored lights on the Ferris wheel and an ice cold beer."

Uncle Tupelo 9 p.m. Sunday
Lounge Ax, 2438 N. Lincoln

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