Madison Square Garden, New York, April 8, 2013
The stadium-sized psychodrama begins once again. “This war is pretty good!”
Upon seeing Fleetwood Mac perform, one cannot help but ponder the lot of Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham. Their romance ended the better part of four decades ago, yet the two of them are chained together seemingly for eternity in a sort of Sisyphean nightmare, forced to rehash in front of thousands of people night after night the recriminations that fuelled the blockbuster success of 1977’s Rumors (which has sold 19 million copies in the US alone).
Of course, “forced” is hardly the right word – after all, they choose to open up their wounds for all to see and do so to their great financial benefit – but, despite the apparent bonhomie on display, the energy that Fleetwood Mac exudes is weird. The choreographed moments tonight, like their slow dance twirl at the end of “Sara,” or Nicks’ declaration to Buckingham that “this war is pretty good” during the introduction to “Landslide,” do little to camouflage it.
On record, of course, this kind of misdirection has long been the ace up Fleetwood Mac’s billowing sleeves. Rumours didn’t go mega-platinum merely because of the intra-band soap opera that played out in the lyrics, but rather because of the tension between that acrimony and the exquisitely produced Southern California soft rock, giving just a hint of bluesy edge to the pretty melodies. Tonight, though, worn by age and scuffed up by a cavernous arena (and without the breezy vocals and, for the most part, the more optimistic songs of Christine McVie, who retired from performing with the band in 1998) the edges of the songs are torn and tattered. Time has taken its toll on Nicks and Buckingham’s voices, Mick Fleetwood’s drums are front and centre and more aggressive than on record, and Buckingham plays his guitar with more attack and rhythmic drive.
While Nicks still has the whiskey-and-cigarettes timbre, the high notes and much of the tremolo that characterizes one of the most distinctive voices in rock are gone; she noticeably struggles with “Rhiannon.” But other songs’ coarser edges – “Sisters of the Moon,” with its fiery guitar leads, and the more atmospheric, Ry Cooder-ish fills of “Gold Dust Woman” – provide cover for her vocal limitations, and her less fluttery reading of “Gypsy” lends it more poignancy.
The songs may have slightly new skin, but nostalgia is still the order of the day. Nicks is adorned in one of her characteristic Morgane Le Fey dresses and playing a tambourine festooned in ribbons, Fleetwood sports jodhpurs a la the Rumours sleeve, and all but three of the songs pre-date 1984. Introducing “Without You,” a ballad bearing more than a passing similarity to “Peace Train” that was recorded by Buckingham Nicks as a demo in the early ‘70s and recently discovered by them on YouTube, Nicks says that she wrote it, “when they were really young and beautiful and in love.” There is no escaping the original music’s healthy, youthful glow; the Pacific sunsets gleaming in the expatriates’ eyes; the Californian natives’ effortless melding of ocean breeze and desert heat. Despite the leaner, tighter arrangements, the songs now show some middle-age paunch.
Tanned and toned and with the top button of his shirt undone, Buckingham whoops and hollers, as ever a little too eager to please as a live performer. While he refreshingly evades the traditional male rock star moulds, he is of a piece with fellow soft-rock icons like Jackson Browne and James Taylor, guys who, if they were born five years earlier, would have been lawyers and seem hellbent to prove how smart they are. His between-song patter is peppered with phrases like “we as a band had to subvert that axiom” and “it bears repeating,” transforming a crowd of some 18,000 middle-aged men and women into fidgety pre-teens.
As his exegesis of his songs indicates, Buckingham is a notorious control freak – he spent a then-unheard-of $1 million painstakingly trying to perfect the follow-up to Rumours, Tusk, widely regarded as rock’s version of Heaven’s Gate upon release. Although its reputation has been rehabilitated over the ensuing years, Buckingham still seems defensive about this quixotic curio, as he introduces a four-song selection from the album. Apart from the awkward, nervous energy of the punk-inspired “Not That Funny,” the section proves the show’s highlight. Nicks is at her best on “Sisters of the Moon,” a song the band hasn’t performed since 1979 (Editor’s note: Fleetwood Mac last performed “Sisters of the Moon” in concert during its 1982 Mirage tour), as well as the album’s most enduring track, “Sara.” In the past, the group have performed the title track in a stripped-down version, shorn of its marching band bombast. Tonight, however, the horns are front and centre on a tape loop, Fleetwood is augmented by a second drummer hidden behind the stack of amps, and the original introductory verse is reinstated, making plain the song’s paranoia. Filling Madison Square Garden with noise and rhythm and unstoppable forward momentum, “Tusk” truly brings the house down.
While the studio is the natural element for Buckingham, Fleetwood Mac have an undeniable command of live dynamics and are forbiddingly tight as a unit – there is not a note or movement or even a breath that seems out of place. You could say that they’re resolutely professional, but then some seemingly genuine affection between Buckingham and Nicks creeps through the carefully managed stagecraft. During their intimate duet on “Say Goodbye” (from 2003’s Say You Will) that closes the show, there’s even a sense that their bond might be one of true commitment, rather than bridled burden.
- Second Hand News
- The Chain
- Sad Angel
- Not That Funny
- Sisters of the Moon
- Big Love
- Never Going Back Again
- Without You
- Eyes of the World
- Gold Dust Woman
- I’m So Afraid
- Stand Back
- Go Your Own Way
- World Turning (first encore)
- Don’t Stop
- Silver Springs (second encore)
- Say Goodbye
Peter Shapiro / Uncut / June 2013