Though Stevie Nicks and the band are older, they opened their first reunited show in 16 years with the hallmark brilliance for playing off each others’ strengths
* * * * (4 out of 5 stars)
The key selling point for Fleetwood Mac’s On With The Show tour, which opened on Tuesday at Minneapolis’s Target Center, is that it’s the first in 16 years to include keyboardist and singer-songwriter Christine McVie, lately relieved of her fear of flying and sprung from her doggy English countryside redoubt.
All of the band’s members except taciturn bassist John McVie, Christine’s ex-husband, paid vocal tribute to her over the course of a spirited two-and-half-hour set. “Our songbird has returned,” said drummer Mick Fleetwood during an extended encore.
McVie’s comeback restores the enduring and protean group’s flagship configuration, whose mid- to late-70s albums entered roughly as many homes as the products of, let’s say, General Electric. The band is currently at work on its first studio album since the 80s, and, you know, it might be pretty good.
They opened with The Chain, a collaboratively composed document of the group’s internecine romantic alliances and disunions that doubles as a unity anthem.
Lindsey Buckingham, wearing heroically tight Levi’s, led the song and established early on that he’d be the evening’s dynamo. As on Side Two of Rumours, “You Make Loving Fun” followed, with McVie drawing loud applause when she purred the opening lines, “Sweeeet wonderful you.”
Sixteen mostly retired years is a long time to get rusty, but the 71-year-old McVie was in excellent form, her keyboard playing gently rumbling or subtly expressive, her singing graceful. Unlike her two front-of-stage colleagues, McVie isn’t an apparent eccentric or egoist, but rather an understated craftsperson of plaintive easy listening and English soul. The group worked in many of her signature songs, including “Over My Head,” “Little Lies,” “Say You Love Me” and a moving closing number, on which more later.
With McVie’s keyboard resettled next to Stevie Nicks’s scarf-draped mic stand, Fleetwood Mac can once more pass the Bechdel test. The group’s gender parity wasn’t unprecedented, but their music was and is unusually dialogic – women and men trading perspectives on lust and longing, volleying tributes to old Welsh witches and beleaguered Beach Boys. It was great, and crucial, to have her back.
Nicks, the group’s most distinctive vocalist and most famous personality, took a while to reach maybe 85%. Even children get older, Nicks once reminded us, and her sandpaper contralto isn’t as reliable as it once was.
Owing either to first-night caution or diminished range, Nicks – on “Gypsy,” “Dreams,” and her traditional showstopper, “Rhiannon” – backed away from vocal climaxes and generally refashioned her melodies toward compression. Sometimes this led to some interesting jazzy or Dylanesque variations; other times the songs sounded bleary and depleted. She did find her feet, though, giving a sensitive reading of the invincible “Landslide,” and offering a cool vocal improv and a mystical interpretive dance for “Gold Dust Woman.”
There’s no reason to doubt that Fleetwood Mac’s sobriety is secure across the board, but Buckingham was certainly hopped up, stomping and whopping and prowling the stage, letting front-row disciples touch the neck of his guitar, breaking into a maniacal laugh to jump-start “Tusk,” the titular hit from the double album on which his genius act was at its most fastidious and convincing. “Tusk” was menacing and spot-on, notwithstanding piped-in horns from the USC Trojans (as if the University of Minnesota’s perfectly capable marching band had another commitment!).
Like Nicks, Buckingham’s a pro at shading the lines between idiosyncratic brilliance and loopy kitsch, and certain passages of intensely breathy emoting or orgasmic lead guitar moved definitively into the latter territory. Mostly, though, he was seriously impressive: his dexterous finger-picking, his fine-toned leads, his impassioned singing, his cool Garfunkel hair. And though he never soft-sold his own songs, he was smartly supportive when McVie or Nicks were in charge.
The group was augmented by a shadow quintet composed of a percussionist, two utility player-harmonists, and two 20-feet-from-stardom singers. High harmonies were in place, then, even if the principals couldn’t access them, and the sound was lush throughout. As usual with the band, there were also stripped-down sections with Buckingham working alone or with one other member, and at one point Fleetwood left his main drum kit (about the size of a Buick LeSabre) for a more modestly scaled kit set up in front.
The finest of these quieter interludes was saved for last, when, following a tender run through Nicks’s “Silver Springs,” the crew wheeled out a baby grand. McVie sat down for an expressive version of “Songbird” with Buckingham providing a spare solo. Those philistines who trotted out during McVie’s pounding “Don’t Stop” solo may have escaped the parking ramps a half hour before the rest of us; but their lives are exponentially poorer for it.
There were two closing speeches in tribute to McVie and the band’s new wholeness: one from Nicks, who said she would have bet every cent that McVie would never come back, and a final one from Fleetwood, who urged kindness in a troubled world, then stepped to the mic for one last, bellowed message: “And remember for sure, the Mac is back!”
Dylan Hicks / The Guardian (UK) / Wednesday, October 1, 2014