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Wilco — 18 January 2022, Riviera Maya, Mexico (Hard Rock Hotel) [Sky Blue Sky Festival; Day 2 of 4]

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I feel like I should really title tonight's recap "Wilco and friends," but whatever you want to call it, it will be pretty hard to top this second of three Wilco sets at the second edition of the Sky Blue Sky festival. Not only were there no repeated songs from the previous night's set, as well as a number of middle-tier rarities, but of course the presence of guest vocalists Mavis Staples, Kurt Vile and Sophie Allison and a couple of other cameos elevated this show to another level.


The appearance of the 82-year-old Staples for the two-song encore of You Are Not Alone and Freedom Highway certainly punctuated what had already been a memorable evening. Obviously it's always a treat any time you get to hear Mavis sing live, but especially so when backed by Wilco (which once again was missing keyboardist Mikael Jorgensen, but got more-than-capable fill-in performances by the so-called "Young Jorgenstein" trio of Sima Cunningham, Macie Stewart and Liam Kazar). That meant a lovely guitar solo turned in by Nels on You Are Not Alone, while the show-closing and inspirational Freedom Highway — which is, no pun intended, a staple of Mavis' own live performances — got a boost from one of the best rhythm sections around in Glenn and John.


For his part, Jeff looked just about as happy as he could be in a Hawaiian-style short-sleeved shirt (which I believe was the same one he wore on the first night of the first SBS a couple of years ago). Then again, I'm sure it's pretty fun for him to be able to just sit back and play guitar and have someone else take over the vocal duties every once in a while. Jeff basically said as much following a solid performance by Allison — whose band Soccer Mommy had been the de facto opening act for Wilco the previous night — on Pot Kettle Black. "All I've ever wanted is for other people to sing my songs," Jeff said. (And for the record, I believe he introduced Allison as "Sophia," which is apparently her given name though she goes by Sophie, so I can see how it might be a little confusing.)


A little bit later in the show, Jeff invited Vile on stage to sing Passenger Side (which Vile had covered on the Wilcovered compilation from a couple of years ago). His laid-back slacker vibe fits the A.M. tune perfectly and, afterward, Jeff quipped, "Now I know how that song is supposed to go." He added that he hoped "everybody is having a good time. This is a blast for us."


After a spirited run through Airline To Heaven, the band closed out the main set with another couple of guests on the crowd-pleasing California Stars. At stage right on electric guitar was the versatile James Elkington, while at stage left, Chris Funk — who is probably best known for his work with the Decemberists but was at SBS as a member of Stephen Malkmus' Traditional Techniques band that was the de facto opener tonight — manned the banjitar that Pat usually handles on the song. As they have done for a while now at Tweedy band shows, the trio of Cunningham, Stewart and Kazar took the lead on the second verse. With 10 people on stage, it gave this California Stars the feel of a big show-closing ensemble number (though it was nothing compared with the number of folks on stage for the song at the recent Austin CIty Limits Hall Of Fame induction show).


With Jeff and Co. probably scrambling a bit to figure out how to make three unique sets work after learning that Mike wouldn't be able to perform this week, the guest singers and players helped to make the 1-hour, 43-minute set a memorable one. But equally important were the contributions of "Young Jorgenstein" (amusingly, Jeff botched the moniker that he had coined the night before while introducing the trio for the first time tonight) to help not only pull off a standard setlist without a hitch, but to go pretty deep into the catalog as well for songs that even the full band doesn't often play anymore, whether oldies like Say You Miss Me or the more recent Star Wars two-fer of Cold Slope>King Of You (none of which had been performed live since the last SBS two years ago).


About the only thing I've noticed go wrong over the course of two shows was a weird sound that came out of a keyboard at the start of Hummingbird that caused Jeff to briefly glance over in Stewart's direction with an amused look on his face. For the most part, though, it's been neat to see Cunningham, Stewart and Kazar tag-team in and out on keyboard duty these past two nights. They all look like they are having a lot of fun up there, and I was trying to imagine what must be going through Stewart's mind, say, when she's watching Nels do his thing on Impossible Germany right in front of her. Or Cunningham's mind when Nels is wielding that huge white double-neck Jerry Jones guitar — which, incidentally, made its usual appearance for Dawned On Me after being suspiciously absent the night before.


The thing about a no-repeat series of shows is that by the final night, by process of elimination if nothing else, you sort of can predict a decent amount of what's coming. So you would expect to hear A Shot In The Arm — Can they play it if Mike isn't there to "play the pillow?" Stay tuned! — as well as Jesus, etc., I'm The Man Who Loves You, Random Name Generator and Sky Blue Sky, at a minimum, during the third and final Wilco set at this year's SBS.


Then again, these SBS shows (both last time and so far this time) have been delightfully unpredictable for the most part, so maybe I'll be wrong. I would be happy to be wrong, actually. With as much fun as the band members seem to be having down here, and as relaxed as they appear, I suppose you're never totally sure what might transpire.


Here was the complete setlist, as played, for Night 2 at SBS 2022 (there were no changes/omissions from the printed setlist):


Red-Eyed and Blue (L)>

I Got You (At The End Of The Century) (L)

Wishful Thinking (L, MV)

Say You Miss Me (L)

At Least That's What You Said

If I Ever Was A Child (S)

I Must Be High (S)

Cold Slope (L)>

King Of You (L)

Country Disappeared (M)

Too Far Apart (L)

Pot Kettle Black (S) (with Sophie Allison of Soccer Mommy on lead vocals)

Hummingbird (M)

How To Fight Loneliness (M)

Impossible Germany (M)

Kingpin (M)

Passenger Side (L) (with Kurt Vile on lead vocals)

Dawned On Me (S)

Airline To Heaven (L)

California Stars (with James Elkington on electric guitar, Chris Funk on banjitar, Sima Cunningham and Macie Stewart on vocals and Liam Kazar on keyboard and vocals)


You Are Not Alone (with Mavis Staples on lead vocals and Sima Cunningham, Macie Stewart and Liam Kazar on backing vocals)

Freedom Highway [The Staples Singers] (with Mavis Staples on lead vocals, Sima Cunningham on backing vocals and tambourine and Macie Stewart and Liam Kazar on backing vocals)


S — denotes Sima Cunningham on keyboard

SV — denotes Sima Cunningham on backing vocals

L — denotes Liam Kazar on keyboard

M — denotes Macie Stewart on keyboard

MV — denotes Macie Stewart on violin

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