REVIEW: Fleetwood Mac plays to its strengths
For a band so relentlessly intent in telling us to forget yesterday – as in their 1977 hit Don’t Stop, Fleetwood Mac sure makes a lot of money keeping the past alive, as evidenced by the full house at Rexall Place Saturday night on their current “On With the Show” Tour.
In the years before hooking up with Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham, Fleetwood Mac was a plodding and increasingly irrelevant UK blues act that was chronically unable to hang on to a succession of gifted guitarists – from Peter Green to Jeremy Spencer to Danny Kirwan. They seemed destined for the dustbin of rock ‘n’ roll history – until Americans Nicks and Buckingham breathed new life into the band with their folk tinged, moody So-Cal sound, a life that continues to resonate loudly all these years later.
The band knocked the evening’s first chunk off the old ball of rock with The Chain, one of nine songs the band played off their 1977 magnum opus Rumours, and a reminder of the value of relationships through the years. Given the band’s storied and sordid internal history, the rhythmic tribal drumming, resplendent chorus, and energetic performance was evidence enough for the band’s current degree of musical viability. These aren’t spring chickens here – the average age of this band is 67.5, with Lindsey Buckingham tipping the young end of the scale at the OAS-receiving age of 65 – yet they sounded fresh and full of life, as if to tell us that living in yesterday is doing a pretty good job of keeping these guys alive today.
When your head is in the clouds, your feet aren’t always on the ground, as evidenced by Stevie Nicks in her little mid-set tale about her rise to rock stardom. Without the tiniest smidgeon of irony, she excitedly told the overwhelmingly middle aged crowd that they could live their dreams, too, and be rock stars if they wanted. I wonder how many 56-year-olds in the crowd planned to take her up on that one.
Philosophers – or realists – they aren’t, but musicians with significant pedigree they are. Their two-plus hour set focused mostly on songs from only two albums – including 1975’s self titled release – and as such was an easy listener’s wet dream. As the band effortlessly drove their way from Dreams to Rhiannon and back, Christine McVie – her 22nd show since reuniting with the band earlier this year – looked classy even with her understated stage presence, and sounded even better on Say You Love Me and You Make Loving Fun, a potential bomb of Captain & Tennille proportions for those of lesser ability and experience than her.
Band members seemed to know their roles, letting the other shine when it was their time, and coming in the spotlight when if was their turn. Nicks had her moments during Gypsy and Gold Dust Woman, trading off the image she has cultivated for herself over the years. If style could be trademarked, Loreena McKennitt would be sued for copyright infringement. “Iconic” is one of the few words to describe Nicks.
Buckingham, by far the most energetic member of the band, took off on numerous instrumental excursions – acoustic during Never Going Back Again, and electric during the minor chord driven tour de force I’m So Afraid. With his bizarre finger flicking picking style, it’s amazing how he is able to fret some of those notes accurately. Rest assured, thanks to Jumbotron, that was him blazing away in a solo that moodily wound its way up and around a spiral staircase into sheer musical ecstasy. Deservedly, the song’s completion brought the crowd to its feet.
The production company responsible for the projection screens above and behind the band deserves praise for stylish, sumptuous use of warm colours, and breathtakingly beautiful background imagery that was clearly constructed to evoke the particular mood of the song in mind. For a band whose members don’t move around much, the warm, arresting images definitely made for a more evocative performance. The show looked as fantastic as it sounded.
Fleetwood Mac’s success is akin to the success of self help books. People seem to have a bottomless desire to hear simple universal messages over and over and over again: Go your own way, don’t stop thinking about tomorrow, live your dreams, yes, we get it. While some may knock the redundancy in the art form, you can’t fault the band for playing to their strengths.