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Wilco — 20 January 2022, Riviera Maya, Mexico (Hard Rock Hotel) [Sky Blue Sky Festival; Day 4 of 4]

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When you consider all of the challenges of putting on an international gathering during a global pandemic and all of the back-and-forth in recent weeks over whether people would come or should come, if refunds should be offered, if the event should be cancelled or postponed, how many people would test positive and be forced to quarantine, what acts would drop out and everything else, I suppose you could say that it was a minor miracle that the second edition of Wilco's Sky Blue Sky festival happened at all, much less happened and left people wanting more.


And yet I think that is what most of the attendees of this year's SBS would tell you, particularly in the aftermath of a packed fourth and final day that offered the most bang for your Wilco buck. (Dare I say that, pun intended, it was dynamite? Yeah, I guess so.) There was Nels Cline offering wisdom and inspiration during an afternoon workshop/Q&A session at the Stairway To Heaven stage before returning later for a solo — mostly — improv set. On the Heaven Beach stage, the Autumn Defense quartet delivered a perfect late afternoon set of original tunes and some of their favorite covers that I'll try to discuss/recap later in another post in this thread. And of course there was the main event in the form of the third and final headlining Wilco set of the week, which definitely put an exclamation point on what must be viewed as a successful week on the Riviera Maya.


Once again, Wilco's 100-minute set with (most) of the band (at least temporarily) dressed in pajamas in keeping with the theme night turned into a round of Wilco and friends — much to the delight of the band and, I think, a significant portion of the pajama-clad audience. Taking center stage once again among those friends was the living legend Mavis Staples, who once again emerged for a two-song encore that closed out the set. First, she was joined by young British saxophonist Nubya Garcia (and siblings Sima Cunningham and Liam Kazar on backing vocals) for the Staples Singers classic I'll Take You There, on which Mavis went around to several Wilco members urging them on for their solo turns. I particularly enjoyed when she called Nels "daddy" and also went and stood next to John for a while as he laid down his bass groove.


Then came The Weight, which is obviously a very popular choice — some might say too popular — whenever a big ensemble finishing number is called for. But it's hard to argue with it when Mavis is at the helm. It wasn't just her chipping in her vocal talents, however. Aside from being part of the four-person backing vocal choir that also included Kurt Vile and Spencer Tweedy, both Sima and Liam got to take a verse on their own, sandwiched around a verse sung by John.


Prior to that were guest vocal appearances by SBS performers Stephen Malkmus (on Pavement's Cut Your Hair, which Wilco had performed sans Malkmus as part of its all-covers set at the 2013 Solid Sound Festival), Britt Daniel (on Kamera, which Jeff joked that Daniel "wanted to sing ... We didn't make him do it.") and Neal Francis (on Theologians, which Jeff said Francis had been supposed to just play keyboard on but "he came to practice with us and sang the shit out of it, so he's gonna sing this one, too.") In general — and I've always appreciated this about Wilco — I thought it was cool that the band made room for so many collaborations over the course of their sets. With so many talented musicians floating around, it would almost be a shame to waste the opportunity. It might not necessarily be what some folks want to see, but for those of us who have been fortunate to see a lot of shows, it can be the difference between a good show and a great one.


And though they were technically part of Wilco for the duration of the festival, you could also include Sima and Liam on the list of collaborators. Both are accomplished performers in their own right, as is their "Young Jorgenstein" colleague Macie Stewart (who was absent from this final Wilco set because she had to fly back to Chicago early to play her own headlining show the following evening). Sima, in particular, seemed to be having the best time of anybody whenever she was on stage. She provided one of my favorite moments of the final Wilco set on Can't Stand It when Jeff turned over the screaming part of the song to her and she enthusiastically ran with it. She also "sparred" with Pat on an entertaining keyboard/xylophone back-and-forth during Bull Black Nova, and had a big smile on her face during Cut Your Hair (on which she added more distinctive backing vocals).


It's a testament to how much there was to report from this show that I haven't even mentioned the full-band live debut of Sunloathe until now. But three songs into the set, there it was — inspired, Jeff said with tongue in cheek, by the abundant Yucatan sunshine. I'd have to listen to it again to really be able to describe it with any level of detail, but it was a treat to finally get to hear it live. I also thought it was cool that Liam was on stage for the debut since he had been courageous enough to cover it on the Wilcovered compilation a couple of years ago, well before the band had actually gotten around to playing it live.


Sunloathe and a few other moderate deep cuts notwithstanding, the third and final Wilco set of the festival was probably a bit more predictable than the first two (A Shot In The Arm/Random Name Generator opening two-fer, "hits" such as Misunderstood, Heavy Metal Drummer, I'm The Man Who Loves You). As I've reiterated over the years, that's sort of what you get when you know there aren't going to be repeats in the setlist. But even a staple like I'm The Man..., for instance, had the added drama of whether or not Glenn would revisit his tradition of standing on his drum stool with arms extended beforehand — spoiler alert: he did — so the set still felt pleasantly surprising in many ways.


On a personal level, it was once again a mostly enjoyable time down here. The concern about a positive test and being forced to quarantine for an indefinite period was always in the back of my mind and I basically kept my mask on any time I was indoors except while eating/drinking and if unable to socially distance outdoors. I don't think most people were that vigilant, so that added another layer to everything for me. It wasn't as "free" as the first SBS, but these are the times we live in. I still had fun and have no regrets going, though I certainly empathize with those who felt like they couldn't take the risk. Yet if things weren't exactly relaxed with the specter of Omicron hanging over everything, well at least I think Wilco (and, yes, Cloud 9) did their level best to try and make it a special experience for those who were able to make the trip. Here's to the next one...


Here was the complete setlist, as played, for the third and final Wilco set of the second Sky Blue Sky festival (there were no changes from the printed setlist):


A Shot In The Arm (L)

Random Name Generator (L)

Sunloathe (L, S)

Handshake Drugs (L)

Can't Stand It (L, SV)

In A Future Age (L)

Misunderstood (S)

Far, Far Away (S)

Bull Black Nova (S)

Forget The Flowers (L)

Kamera (L) (with Britt Daniel of Spoon on lead vocals)

Theologians (with Neal Francis on lead vocals and keyboard )

Born Alone (L)

Jesus, etc. (S)

Hate It Here (S)

Heavy Metal Drummer (S)

I'm The Man Who Loves You (S)

Candyfloss (L)

Casino Queen (S)

Outtasite (Outta Mind) (L)

Cut Your Hair [Pavement] (L, SV) (with Stephen Malkmus on lead vocals)


I'll Take You There [The Staples Singers] (SV, LV) (with Mavis Staples on lead vocals and Nubya Garcia on tenor saxophone)

The Weight [The Band] (SV, LV) (with Mavis Staples on lead vocals and Kurt Vile and Spencer Tweedy on backing vocals)


S — denotes Sima Cunningham on keyboard

SV — denotes Sima Cunningham on backing vocals

L — denotes Liam Kazar on keyboard

LV — denotes Liam Kazar on backing vocals

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37 minutes ago, tinnitus photography said:

great recap Paul. Wilco, the bands, the staff - everyone delivered an incredible four days (at least for me; i had a great time. my only slight annoyance was discovering that there is seemingly a sizeable portion of cig smokers in the Wilco fan base). 


Curious to know if  you  were you shooting at all this weekend or was it a total enjoy the music kind of vacation? 

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The Cut Your Hair with Malkmus was amazing!  I happened to catch it on Susie's Instagram and I was floored.  One by the surprise of it all, but also the performance.  I've never seen Malkmus that animated ever!  He seemed to be channeling a very hopped up David Bowie or something.  Jeff did a fantastic job nailing the solo and Steve's sound/style too.

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Thanks for the detailed recaps @bböp. Always a pleasure to read these and pore over the details. My head has already exploded from the intersection of my two favorite bands, Spoon and Wilco, in watching the video of Britt singing "Kamera." Here's hoping that performance of "Sunloathe" was taped!! I'd love to see that.

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On 1/21/2022 at 9:51 AM, LittleDrummerBoy said:

If I'm not mistaken, is this the first time Sunloathe was performed live?


Yes, first time by the “full” band. Jeff mentioned it afterward. I had it in my original post, but that was in the part that disappeared. I will add that and a few more paragraphs in tonight.

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On 1/21/2022 at 9:58 AM, tinnitus photography said:

great recap Paul. Wilco, the bands, the staff - everyone delivered an incredible four days (at least for me; i had a great time. my only slight annoyance was discovering that there is seemingly a sizeable portion of cig smokers in the Wilco fan base). 


On 1/21/2022 at 7:11 AM, worldrecordplayer said:

Thanks Paul for all your continued reporting here. 

Thanks for reading. And good to see you down there, Tim. Sorry we didn’t get a chance to chat longer. I’m sure you got some great shots, though. Looking forward to your recap.

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On 1/21/2022 at 10:58 AM, tinnitus photography said:

great recap Paul. Wilco, the bands, the staff - everyone delivered an incredible four days (at least for me; i had a great time. my only slight annoyance was discovering that there is seemingly a sizeable portion of cig smokers in the Wilco fan base). 

And not enough pot smokers! 😜

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Of interest to no one, I finally finished up my recap from the final Wilco set of Sky Blue Sky in the original post. Basically added a few paragraphs, more or less rewriting the ones that somehow vanished from my post late that night/early that morning. And, as promised in that writeup, I'm also finally getting around to a brief comment/recap about the Autumn Defense set from earlier in the day. Not sure where else to put it, among the various threads, so I guess I'll just stick it here.


For the general laid-back vibe of SBS, I don't know that anything captures it better than watching the Autumn Defense play their particular brand of softish rock in the late afternoon while nursing a cocktail from a float in the lagoon that faces the Heaven Beach stage. With the duo of Pat Sansone and John Stirratt fleshed out with the addition of regular rhythm section James "Haggs" Haggerty on bass and Greg "G Whiz" Wieczorek on drums, the full-band Autumn D played a really enjoyable 75 minute-set that was almost equally split between their tunes and some of their favorite covers. Pat said they had intended to make it an all-covers set, to change things up a bit, but hadn't been able to get together enough to rehearse everything they wanted to play.


I wish more people who maybe don't take this project as seriously or give it the respect it deserves could see them like this, because I think it would win the band plenty more fans. But maybe they're just destined to be one of those under-the-radar acts that gets appreciated by future generations, much like a lot of the bands to which they seem to gravitate. With one notable exception, of course, in the form of the Fab Four.


Pat, especially, being a well-known Beatles fanatic, must have had the band on the brain in the wake of the recently released Get Back documentary. The Autumn D opened their set with relative deep cut I'll Be Back, which I almost didn't recognize at first. And poignantly, they also played The Long And Winding Road — a highlight of the set, for sure. Of course, in my book, any set of theirs that closes with Big Star's You Can't Have Me — and Pat's Tele work on that song, in particular — is a winner.


Here was the complete Autumn Defense setlist at Sky Blue Sky 2022, as played, :


I'll Be Back [The Beatles]

This Thing That I've Found

The Sun In California

Misty Roses [Tim Hardin]

Day Comes [G. Wayne Thomas]

Paradise [Miracle Legion]

I Knew I'd Want You [The Byrds (Gene Clark)]

The Long And Winding Road [The Beatles]

Feel You Now

Huntington Fair


We Would Never Die

A House Is Not A Motel [Love]

Sentimental Lady [Fleetwood Mac (Bob Welch)]

The Swallows Of London Town

You Can't Have Me [Big Star]

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