all words: Andy Johnson, all photos: Shauna Alexander
The man sitting to my left at the Verizon Center appeared to be in his early 60s. He and his wife were accompanied by another couple, the four slightly tipsy on domestic macrobrews and bad wine. They were most likely well off, able to drop hundreds to see one of the most popular soft rock bands in history. My armrestmate was wearing a sport coat that has probably always been too big for his size. He was balding with prominent liver spots. His hands, leathered by time, smelled like ointment and pears. His teeth were the color of a No 2 pencil.
Sitting to my right was the singer in a critically-acclaimed indie rock group, one that I have reviewed for this very website. She was giddy to be here, chirping to her friend how excited she was to finally see Fleetwood Mac. I remarked that my mother was jealous that I was reviewing the show. She responded, “Oh yeah, mine too. Who wouldn’t want to see Fleetwood Mac?”
I am not sure who wouldn’t BUT let me tell you who DEFINITELY did. Two groups came out to see Fleetwood Mac Tuesday evening: baby boomers and millennial women. The former’s presence is self-evident. It can’t be understated how popular Fleetwood Mac was in their heyday. Ascending in the excess of the 1970s, the turmoil of the band’s romantic lives fueled a string of confessional, commercially-successful releases, most notably Rumours. One of the best-selling records of all time, Rumours is one of the few albums that has become part of our cultural canon, arguably as recognizable as anything the Beatles or Rolling Stones have put out. You may not enjoy Fleetwood Mac, but if you’ve ever shopped at a grocery store, you must be familiar with “Don’t Stop” and “Go Your Own Way.”
But intermingled between your usual collection of boomers out on the town to see a dinosaur band were pockets of young women, also drunk on domestic macrobrews and bad wine, who were hooting right along to “Gold Dust Woman and “Sisters of the Moon.” A female friend told me to quell my tweeting of the event and to “Put your phone down and bask in the Stevie.” Furthermore, many contemporary female-fronted rock groups, ranging from Best Coast to Rilo Kiley, have sung Fleetwood Mac’s praises.
I’ve wondered why many of my female peers harbor such glowing admiration for a group who peaked before they were born. I’m hesitant to delve deep into that pool of gender politics, but I do have three thoughts. One: It’s not a coincidence that a group with so many young female fans features two successful female singer/songwriters. Two: Stevie Nicks’ Instagram-ready gypsy image and bittersweet lyrics still resonate. Three: women generally have a more overt appreciation for really great pop music than men do.
The band, down a member since Christine McVie retired in 1998, launched a world tour this year because, well why not? Who wouldn’t want to see Fleetwood Mac? A “super deluxe” version of Rumours was recently released, and as seen by brisk sales of a Starbucks cover compilation last year, the public interest of Fleetwood Mac is at a crest. Given their enduring popularity and role in popular culture, it’s only a matter of time until some Hollywood hack pitches a Rumours biopic.
The group took the stage for the 2 1/2 hour show around 8:15 pm. Mick Fleetwood’s drumkit (and gong!) was stage center, with Lindsey Buckingham and Nicks’ microphones stage left and right. Bassist John McVie silently complemented the bombastic Fleetwood all night. In the shadows lurked two backup vocalists, a rhythm guitarist, and the group’s longtime multi-instrumentalist. Christine McVie’s absence was hardly noticed, and her songs—“Everywhere,” “Little Lies,” “You Make Loving Fun”—were not performed.
“Second Hand News” is one of my favorite Fleetwood Mac songs, and to see it performed live was surreal. I compare the feeling of watching a graying Lindsey Buckingham sing, “When times go bad / When times go rough” between joyful nonsense scatting in 2013 to Alan Grant witnessing a brontosaurus ambling across the plains of Jurassic Park.
The sad truth is that pop groups do not age well. Most have long broken up, or tour with few original members. Mick Fleetwood & John McVie sounded tight all night, never missing a step. But, in all due respect to the band’s founding members, what makes Fleetwood Mac popular is the dynamic between Nicks and Buckingham. Their presence is still magnetic, but noticeably waning. The duo, like many of their fans, is now in their sixties, and no amount of makeup or hair dye can undo time’s wrath. Buckingham remains a competent front man and a much underrated guitarist. Nicks still has the witchy woman thing going on, but her pipes are not nearly as emotive as they once were. Her tambourine skills, however, remain magnificent.
After technical snafus throughout “Second Hand News” were smoothed over (i.e. Buckingham’s guitar sounded awful), they regrouped for a bass-heavy, manic version of fan favorite “The Chain.” The diminutive Nicks took lead vocals for “Dreams,” and while her range was restricted, she was buoyed by her backup singers and an adoring audience who sang along, “Thunder only happens when it’s raining / Players only love you when they’re playing.” Her voice was also notably lower when they later performed “Rihannon.”
A new song, “Sad Angel,” featured vocals from both Buckingham and Nicks. Considering when a band tells the crowd, “Okay, we’re gonna play a new song now,” it usually elicits groans, the uptempo “Sad Angel” sounded surprisingly fresh.
Buckingham took a moment to address the crowd prior to playing a mini-set of four songs off Tusk, the very expensive follow-up to Rumours: “There is an axiom in the music industry: if you find something that works, run it into the ground.” Buckingham explained the mammoth Tusk (20-songs; no pun intended) upset label executives, who feared it would bomb. It went double platinum, and thirtysomething years later, Buckingham boasted about its enduring legacy. (Digression: one of my favorite pieces of Fleetwood Mac lore is that an opening act on the European leg of their Tusk tour was Bob Marley. What an odd show that must have been.)
“Not That Funny” showcased Buckingham’s yelping vocals and gave Nicks a brief reprieve. “Tusk,” one of their weirdest songs—it resembles like a Talking Heads song to me—was played next. As raucous as “Tusk” sounded, it was nothing compared to the absurd visual cacophony going on behind them. Mutated fractals of bears and boars swirled violently before bleeding into a refraction of a digitized USC Marching Band blaring away. This was followed by a drum solo, because why not end “Tusk” with a drum solo?
I could go into further detail about “Sisters of the Moon” and “Sara” but that would be rehashing earlier points made about “Dreams” and “Rihannon.” No doubt Nicks looked great, and she certainly can still twirl in place with the best of ‘em, but her renditions of Fleetwood Mac classics were satisfactory instead of emotionally arresting.
The rhythm section took a break so Buckingham could fingerpick his way through a solo romp of “Big Love.” Nicks then returned to the stage to perform a duet of “Landslide,” one of the evening highlights. When she dedicated the song to Mick Fleetwood’s daughters Ruby & Tessa, it seemed like a sweet gesture from their fairy godmother. Little did we know that hours earlier it came to light that he filed for divorce from their mother.
The remainder of the concert varied in quality. A visual glitch resulted in a “No Signal” error briefly appearing on the video wall during “Gypsy.” This warning was later well served, as “Eyes Of The World” contained unsettling imagery of giant green and brown eyeballs rapidly zooming in, attacking your comfort zone. The swirling, James Bond Intro-esque imagery of “Gold Dust Woman” complemented Nicks’ sartorial taste in what was arguably her best-sounding song of the evening.
What looked like red French fry heat lamps descended on the group prior to “I’m So Afraid,” the closing song off their second eponymous album. The audience held lighters (and, sigh, cell phones) in the air to salute Buckingham’s guitar wizardry. I’m willing to go on record saying his solo here could rival David Gilmour’s “Comfortably Numb” or even Jimmy Page’s “Stairway To Heaven.” (Not to mention only one of these men still regularly tours).
After a sped-up version of Steve Nicks’ solo cut “Stand Back,” complete with imagery of what appeared either Jean Grey or Daenerys Targaryen engulfed in flames, the group closed the main set with a sharp version of “Go Your Own Way,” causing the audience to lurch up from their comfortable seats and burn some calories.
The first encore of “World Turning” was Mick Fleetwood’s time to shine. Clad in attire unsuitable for a drummer—knickers, vest, ascot, gnome shoes—he pounded through a lengthy drum solo, continuously asking the audience via his head mic, “Are you still there? Are you with me?” If that wasn’t enough, the band then dropped “Don’t Stop,” a stone cold classic whose opening introduction caused me to mark out and openly sing with strangers.
I’ve seen many nostalgia acts in my days, and they usually conclude their sets with a massive hit to send the crowd home buzzing. Fleetwood Mac could have stopped with “Don’t Stop,” and we would have been pleased. But their second encore—do you think one would be enough?—was comprised of two gloomy, forgotten songs: “Silver Springs” and “Say Goodbye,” the latter, according to Buckingham, a “song about closure.”
The more that I think about it, the fact that Fleetwood Mac managed to not only survive the ‘70s but remain entertaining nearly four decades later is completely insane. This band should have broken up years ago. Rumours should not exist. Let me put this in context: it’s probably not a wise idea to remain in a band with a former lover. But to release an suite of songs about how fucked up your love life is, and then force your ex-lover to harmonize with you in front of thousands of people, over and over again, for decades, is simply ludicrous. I guess time heals all wounds.
In conclusion, this show was a lot of fun, and everyone seemed to have a good time, but I cannot deny that Stevie Nicks’ warning that “Children get older/ I’m getting older too” rang all too true.