Sunday, October 19, 2014

Fleetwood Mac: On With the Show

I was excited to see Fleetwood Mac in Chicago (that's actually the name of one of the band's early records), and it was a strong show. While upper ranges are long gone and Stevie Nicks' twirling far less frenetic than in the old days, Fleetwood Mac - rejoined by Christine McVie - was credible and in no danger of tarnishing their legacy.

With McVie back in the band, there is a lot less space for Nicks' and Buckingham's songs in the set. That was a good thing in that some less deserving material (mostly Buckingham's who is the least consistent songwriter of the trio) is out. On the other hand, it meant there were very few surprises in the set list. No digging into the depths of Tusk for nuggets like "Storms" and "Beautiful Child", although the band did provide an spirited rendition of "I Know I'm Not Wrong". Aside from that song, the only semi-surprise was the inclusion of "Seven Wonders". Given the track's recent use in American Horror Story, I suppose its appearance isn't a true surprise. The other casualties were solo material and any songs during McVie's hiatus. No "Stand Back", "Go Insane", or anything from McVie's In the Meantime. Say You Will was completely ignored even though the title track would have made a nice bit of resonance for McVie's return, as well as being a song that begs for her vocal harmonies to put it over the top.

While one of Fleetwood Mac's greatest refrains is singing "don't you look back" during "Don't Stop", this show did nothing but look backwards. Over half the set list was pulled from Fleetwood Mac and Rumours, with ten out of twelve possible songs from the latter. Mirage and Tango in the Night were represented only by the hits, and nothing after Tango made the set list. While the predictability was a definite minus, with a band that has this much history it's hard to fault them. This set list is what people coming to the show want to hear, and the band rarely sounded like they were just going through the motions.

McVie's return meant some of the band's biggest hits were back ("Over My Head", "Say You Love Me", "Little Lies"), and it was absolutely fantastic to see/hear McVie practically silence the arena as she performed "Songbird" to close the show. I admit that I was watching McVie during the night to see how "rusty" she might be after sixteen years off of touring, but she betrayed no overt weakness. She did a little solo keyboard run during "Don't Stop" that was fun, and she was still rocking the accordion on "Tusk". If I had one wish, it would have been to hear her deliver "As Long As You Follow" instead of "Everywhere" (which has always been limp on stage). And if I had another wish, it would be to fit in a pre-Buckingham Nicks cut from McVie ("Homeward Bound" or "Just Crazy Love").

Nicks, who has just released her latest solo album 24 Karat Gold, is experiencing something of a popular renaissance and was in fine voice all things considered. She did an especially good rendition of "Gold Dust Woman", calling forth the dark mysticism of her performances from Mac's heyday. As a die-hard Nicks fan, I was thrilled. At the same time, between her solo work and Mac work I'm getting a bit tired of "Landslide" and "Silver Springs". I have to admit I was hoping "Angel" might make an appearance over "Sisters of the Moon", which is superfluous in a set that includes both "Rhiannon" and "Gold Dust Woman". That said, Nicks got to me with "Landslide". It certainly didn't hurt that the entire audience seemed to be singing the song with Nicks.

The guitar work of Lindsey Buckingham, more than ever, is the fire in belly of this band. Supported by the apparently ageless stomp and throb of Mick Fleetwood and John McVie, his guitar work was by turns gentle, rocking, and - on his solos - searing. His solo on "I'm So Afraid" was mind-blowing in its intensity, ultimately making the song beside the point. His finger picking on "Big Love" is as dizzying as ever. To see someone playing at the speed he was often playing at and not once look down at his fretboard (and sometimes keeping his eyes closed) is inspirational to anyone who plays guitar. Sure, he's a bit pompous (the Wizard of Oz projection of his face during one song was a painfully humorous example of ego gone amok) and, yeah, his talent as a producer is overstated, but as a guitar player you simply cannot ask for anything more. He's a genius of that instrument!

There is talk of a new Fleetwood Mac album. Given the quality of music and performances being put out by these five - either in playing old material during this tour or in their recent solo output - it should be an album worthy of the attention Fleetwood Mac's supergroup status will undoubtedly attract.

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