Fleetwood Mac Thrills Toyota Center for Two-Plus Hours
Have Shawl, Will Travel: Stevie Nicks and Mick Fleetwood (back)
Photos by Jack Gorman
Fleetwood Mac Toyota Center December 15, 2014
The Mac Attack is Back! And with the Songbird back in the nest, the Chain has been reforged, and seems stronger than ever.
Okay, that may be a little heavy on the symbols and metaphors. But it's hard to overestimate the importance the Fleetwood Mac's return to its classic mid-'70s to mid-'80s lineup of Lindsey Buckingham (vocals/guitar), Stevie Nicks (vocals), namesake rhythm section Mick Fleetwood (drums) and John McVie (bass), and returning vocalist/keyboardist Christine McVie.
So many references were made by other band members onstage to McVie's unlikely and never-thought-possible comeback after 16 years (she had retired to her English castle, vowing never to make music again), that no one would have blamed her for blushing, even nearly 40 dates into this reunion tour.
Every classic-rock band of any importance or longevity has gone through lineup changes -- including Fleetwood Mac, whose origins stretch back to 1967 as a straight-up, all-English blues band. But there just seems something so...right about this lineup reconstituting. Take out any one of the five, and it's just not the same.
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And for more than 2.5 hours, Fleetwood Mac put on a vibrant, strident, joyous show that was no robotic walk through the Greatest Hits. And they had the sold-out Toyota Center shaking, with even most of those on the floor standing up for the bulk of the set.
Opening appropriately with the band-of-brothers-and-sisters anthem "The Chain" to a rapturous welcome, the band played a seemingly never-ending string of favorites. The included a whopping nine of the 11 tracks from their career apex Rumours, and that album's haunting B-side "Silver Springs."
They also found set list space for a couple of deeper cuts from the more experimental 1979 double album Tusk ("I Know I'm Not Wrong," "Sisters of the Moon"), possibly to the exclusion of bigger hits "Sara" and "Hold Me" from the set list. Other highlights included a slinky "Dreams," buoyant "Say You Love Me," and hard-charging "I'm So Afraid." The band was augmented by three backup singers and two keyboardists/guitarists, tucked up on risers at the back of the stage.
Nicks dedicated a lush "Landslide" -- performed by just her and Buckingham on guitar accompaniment -- to a real-life Rhiannon in the audience who had/was facing some unexplained life challenge. She was likely not the only audience member either named for or conceived by that Tale of a Welsh Witch.
A handful of numbers were rejiggered from their album arrangements to great effect. Buckingham's "Big Love" went from a more pop tune (with the orgiastic "oohs" and "aahs" of the chorus) into a howling, guitar-drenched cry of pain. Its author told the crowd that the track's meaning for him had changed since its 1987 appearance on Tango in the Night.
The Mac's other members weren't shy about welcoming Christine McVie back into the fold.
"This song was about contemplation in alienation...and now it's a meditation on the importance of change" he told the audience and -- pointing to one close by younger member -- "written before you were even born."
Nicks' cocaine elegy "Gold Dust Woman" turned into a far heavier, extended jam. It featured one of Nicks' trademark stage twirls, all long blonde hair, scarves, and glittering shawl batwings. And while she pulled out her trademark stage moves more sparingly (being a 66-year-old in high heels and all), the audience went apeshit every time she turned.
She also turned out to be the night's most chatty storyteller, introducing "Gypsy" with a mini-history lesson of her and Buckingham's adventures first as teenagers in high school, then band partners in L.A. and San Francisco in the late '70s, where the duo opened for acts like Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Chicago.
For all the romantic soap opera that has been the band's history with its members being together, separated, divorced, and changing partners, it's clear this particular pair still have an unshakeable bond between them that's neither forced nor fake.
All five had a sinewy energy about them belling their chronological ages, especially the super lean Christine McVie (who Nicks said has been "working out with a trainer every day since February") and stage-stalking Buckingham, both in skinny jeans.
There were, as expected, some concessions to age among the band's three singers. Christine McVie's voice is a bit sharper, sometimes removed from its warmer tones; Nicks' is a bit more gravelly, and Buckingham worked to make his upper register.
But these are all minor observances, and in fact, actually add to the songs, making them more lived-in and reflective of history.
When Nicks offered the wistful line "But time makes you bolder/ Even children get older/ And I'm getting older too" on "Landslide" (written in 1973!), it clearly struck a chord with both band and audience. And the vocals could have actually been turned up a bit higher in the mix throughout the show.
Story continues on the next page.
This was no robotic walk through the greatest hits.
A slowed-down "Never Going Back Again" brought some more regret into the lyrics. And even Buckingham's well-worn kiss-off "Go Your Own Way" had a visceral power live that belied its FM-radio overplaying. [Note: this paragraph has been edited after publication.]
The evening came to a close with a rousing "Don't Stop," though one can't help by mentally picture a certain political power couple with the track playing now, and an elegant, heartbreaking "Silver Springs." Then, fittingly, Christine McVie returned to a grand piano to play the strains of "Songbird."
In it, the avian of the title "knows the score." And the score - brought home with Nicks and Fleetwood's touchingly personal post-song address to the audience about the current reformation - is that the band has started a new chapter in its ever-unfolding book.
The quintet are already working on new material for an upcoming studio album, and a second Houston date has been added for March 3 of next year. Get your tickets...now.
Personal Bias: Longtime fan, and not just of this lineup. And I credit seeing a Mac show in Austin in the late '80s (sans Buckingham, but with Rick Vito and Billy Burnette) with starting me on a music-journalism path.
The Crowd: Wider-range of ages than most classic-rock shows, from twentysomethings to sixtysomethings. A handful of shawled Stevie wannabes; Lots of couples.
Overheard in the Crowd: "I hope they do 'Sara,' but they probably won't. It's not a song really meant for concerts."
Random Notebook Dump: Lindsey's high, brillo hair is looking more Art Garfunkelesque all the time.
SET LIST The Chain You Make Loving Fun Dreams Second Hand News Rhiannon Everywhere I Know I'm Not Wrong Tusk Sisters of the Moon Say You Love Me Seven Wonders Big Love Landslide Never Going Back Again Over My Head Gypsy Little Lies Gold Dust Woman I'm So Afraid Go Your Own Way
ENCORE World Turning (w/Fleetwood drum solo) Don't Stop Silver Springs
ENCORE 2 Songbird
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