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Wilco — 2 December 2023, Riviera Maya, México (Hard Rock Hotel) [Sky Blue Sky Festival; Day 1 of 4]

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Some 23 months since the last edition of Wilco's Sky Blue Sky Festival at the Hard Rock Hotel in Mexico's Riviera Maya corridor, it's hard to express the different feelings conjured by being back here. On one hand, there's some sense of déja vu with the familiar layout of the resort and the different concert stages (though a few changes have been made to some of the restaurants and buildings). But awaiting Wilco's set on the opening night of this year's event, you also couldn't help but think about all that had happened in both Wilcoworld and the world at large since the band last performed on Mexican soil.


At the last Sky Blue Sky, if you recall, Wilco had to replace keyboardist Mikael Jorgensen — who had tested positive for COVID just prior to the festival — with a rotating cast of pals including Finom's Sima Cunningham and Macie Stewart as well as Cunningham's brother Liam Kazar. Also consider the fact that the band has released not one, but two, records since the last Sky Blue Sky, including this year's Cousin, produced by 2023 SBS participant Cate Le Bon, and the three sets Wilco will play this year could go any number of ways.


One good thing about Sky Blue Sky in its relatively brief history has been that it has seemed to free Jeff and his bandmates to be a bit more uninhibited than they might ordinarily be, at least in terms of trying some different things with setlists, attempting some deeper cuts and just generally throwing a little more caution to the proverbial wind. There was the unannounced "no repeats" trilogy of shows the first year, for example and more than a few surprise guest singers last time. So when we heard the band soundchecking a couple of songs it hadn't played in a while earlier in the afternoon — Art Of Almost and Can't Stand It — you figured something was up.


And that feeling got even more pronounced when the band took the stage to the recorded track EKG from Star Wars, which it used to do during that brief run of shows in 2016 when it performed that album from start to finish. About seven songs into the set, Jeff finally asked if anyone in the crowd recognized the theme of the set thus far and it didn't take long for a guy named Alex in the front row to chime in with the correct answer: First tracks off Wilco albums. (Unfortunately Jeff told Alex there was no prize for coming up with the correct answer, but Jeff told Alex to record a video of Jeff saying he had the right answer, and Alex got a nice ovation from the crowd.)


Now technically, there are more than a few nits to pick with this setlist theme, some of which Jeff pointed out himself. He said that one opening track had been purposely omitted (presumably Cruel Country's I Am My Mother) because the band wanted to play it another night, while another track was actually "a second song." Actually, the track Jeff was referring to — Schmilco's Cry All Day — was that record's third song; Normal American Kids is the opening track on Schmilco...oopsie. And Jeff admitted the band had forgotten one opening track all together while creating the Night 1 setlist — namely, Ode To Joy's Bright Leaves — but Wilco was actually able to rectify that in the moment by pulling off the relative rarity. (Jeff also noted Being There Disc 2 opener Sunken Treasure was "a bonus first track.")


In acknowledging the "opening track" theme, Jeff admitted, "We don't have enough songs to do (an entire show of album openers) — when we get to 20 albums, we'll get back to you — but we're gonna keep on going." Now, I wasn't necessarily expecting Walt Whitman's Niece or Bugeye Jim off Mermaid Avenue Vols. 1 and 3, respectively, but I think maybe Airline To Heaven (Mermaid Avenue, Vol. 2) wouldn't have been too much too ask (wink, wink)?


Then again, maybe Jeff already had his hands full enough with the songs on the setlist. He had his lone lyric flub on the second verse of I Must Be High, though if he hadn't halted and smiled sheepishly at himself, I'm not sure how many people would have noticed. There also seemed to be a technical issue on stage at one point having to do with the monitors, which caused Jeff to tell the audience "we're flying by the seat of our pants here," and talk his bandmates into trying to play Wilco (The Song) without really being able to hear one another. It seemed to work out OK for the most part.


Most of Jeff's visits to Banter Corner tonight involved the "opening tracks" theme, with probably the best line coming when he joked that, "Tomorrow we're gonna do all 'last songs.' That's a slow set, I'll tell you that. You don't wanna be around for that."


After Wilco "ran out" of first songs, as Jeff put it, its setlist seemed to revert back to more familiar material with two cuts off Cousin, Levee and the title track, as well as fan favorites such as Hummingbird and Impossible Germany. Following I'm Always In Love, the band left the stage but seemed primed for at least a brief encore. However, despite its crew bringing out guitars, the house music came on and no encore materialized, leaving the crowd a bit miffed. Then again, maybe this crowd didn't really deserve an encore — or even the planned end of the main set. I can't really say the energy level during the show was especially fantastic, but who knows exactly what happened? At least we still have a couple more Wilco sets here to look forward to, hopefully with some more of the irreverent energy that characterized the first half of tonight's set.


Here was the complete setlist, as played, for Night 1 at Sky Blue Sky (Bright Leaves was not on the printed setlist, and the final five songs on the printed list were not played — Dawned On Me, Meant To Be and A Shot In The Arm to close the main set and Spiders (Kidsmoke) and I'm A Wheel as the encore):


EKG (recorded track, played as band walked on stage)

Infinite Surprise>

Art Of Almost

I Am Trying To Break Your Heart

Can't Stand It

At Least That's What You Said


I Must Be High

Cry All Day

Bright Leaves

Wilco (The Song)

Sunken Treasure

Either Way




Via Chicago

Impossible Germany

Love Is Everywhere (Beware)

I'm Always In Love

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That was a pleasant surprise this morning. SBS has crept up on me without me really being aware - suppose as someone who's never going to go that happens. So on autopilot out of habit just checked by and saw it.


P.S. Big fan of Wilco (The Song)

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Definitely a surprise they didn't come back for an encore. That must have been the shortest of all SBS sets from Wilco. Which is in no way a complaint from me. I thought the show was excellent with lots of unexpected tunes being very well played. Plus, down in front of the stage it was hot and humid as heck without nary a breeze and I had not much left in my tank. Looking forward to today and Lucinda tonight. 


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Susie posted a note on Facebook (and it was confirmed by a band member last night) that they ended the set early because Jeff was not feeling well and needed medical treatment for heat exhaustion, aggravated by his hip issues.


He's apparently doing better now. I'm interested to hear what he says when they take the stage tonight. Maybe something along the lines of "Where were we?" 

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  • bböp changed the title to Wilco — 2 December 2023, Riviera Maya, México (Hard Rock Hotel) [Sky Blue Sky Festival; Day 1 of 4]

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