REVIEW: Fleetwood Mac at the United Center

Suddenly, Fleetwood Mac seems like it might be thinking about tomorrow again.

After touring since 1998 in various incomplete incarnations and with varying levels of comfort with each other, the onetime supergroup is now back to the full lineup of its late 1970s heyday, minus the bad habits and the romantic entanglements of that era.

And don’t think the crowd at United Center Thursday didn’t know and appreciate it. When prodigal keyboardist Christine McVie sang “sweet, wonderful you,” her first solo notes of the night, on “You Make Loving Fun,” exultant cheers came from the crowd.

“Our dream girl is back,” Stevie Nicks would say later, just after McVie had sat at a grand piano and delivered her simple, soulful “Songbird” to end the almost 2-1/2-hour show.

McVie, with the help of a therapist, has conquered a fear of flying and given up a life in the English countryside to rejoin the band, making the second stop on its reunion tour in Chicago (where it plays again Friday).

Except for a quick reference to her long-ago marriage to bassist John McVie — part of this band’s charm is its complicated past, often mythologized in song — she mostly left the talking to her bandmates. But with her songs back in the set and her calm, angular presence back on the stage, there was an undeniable feeling of rejuvenation.

“Making all of us complete,” drummer Mick Fleetwood said of McVie, “our songbird has returned.”

We’ve heard, in the tour buildup, that Fleetwood Mac is even writing and recording new material, news that holds no small promise considering how many enduring songs they’ve already made.

And now we’ve seen, in Chicago, that they’re playing like a group with an eye on the horizon, one that’s sharing the spotlight and taking every occasion to say kind things about one another. The show ended, not with a song, but with curious little speeches about unity and togetherness from Nicks and Fleetwood. (This is not recommended for groups with a lesser track record.)

So a tour showcasing new material may not be that far off. But what Mac delivered Thursday was 24 tunes from the heart of its catalog, classic rock live.

Christine McVie’s presence took some of the focus off of the Californians, Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, whose 1974 addition to an existing British blues outfit kicked the band into the album-sales stratosphere, particularly with 1977’s “Rumours.”

Fleetwood and John McVie, on bass, reminded concert goers why the band is named for them. They still put a layer of muscle behind everything the band did, even the unapologetic soft rock of Christine’s “Little Lies.” Fleetwood pounded and then barked his way through a four-minute drum solo in “World Turning.”

But this band is about its songwriters. Christine McVie was almost regal, taking in more than she gave out, letting her silky love songs speak for her.

Buckingham, though, snarled his lyrics, jumped with the high notes on his guitar solos and generally belied what people might think they know about him from “Saturday Night Live’s” running parody. He may look like Art Garfunkel’s younger brother stuffed into skinny jeans, but this man is a vital musical presence, the soul of the band.

Ditto for the vitality of Nicks, its cauldron-stirring spirit. She didn’t twirl as fast or as often as she used to; a few spins, executed gingerly, were enough to draw fervent applause. The tempo on “Rhiannon,” one of her signature tunes, doesn’t blister as it once did.

But her voice quickly warmed up to put power and depth, if not range, behind her trademark rasp. Her showcase songs, “Landslide,” “Gold Dust Woman” and, especially, “Silver Springs,” were the night’s highlights.

As for stagecraft, give credit to Fleetwood Mac for keeping the microphones pointed in the right direction. The crowd was happily singing along most of the night, but never — never! — as lead vocalists. That is a rare thing in 2014, especially from a band who wouldn’t need to show any of the words on screen.

Less praiseworthy was the video screen behind the stage. It started promisingly, with just color, light, some nature scenes. But the video got more and more aggressive until on one tune it showed us footage of eyes, noses and facial pores. Somebody must have dragged that director away from the controls, because the final bits backed off, simply showing the band.

A couple of musicians backed the core group on guitar and keyboards, but Buckingham was ferocious and tireless as lead guitarist. (His “Big Love” beatdown of an acoustic guitar recalled Richard Thompson.) There were two backup singers, too, also in shadow, ready to fill in on the high notes, but, really, the trio of Buckingham-Nicks-C. McVie had nothing to apologize for as lead vocalists.

That trio is now hovering around 70 years of age. But even as young pups they were writing songs that contemplated the march of time. Now, with McVie’s unexpected return and the potential for new material, those lyrics about yesterday being gone and time making you bolder seemed to hold a special resonance.

United Center, Chicago, 10/2/14 set list

  1. The Chain
  2. You Make Loving Fun
  3. Dreams
  4. Second Hand News
  5. Rhiannon
  6. Everywhere
  7. I Know I’m Not Wrong
  8. Tusk
  9. Sisters of the Moon
  10. Say You Love Me
  11. Seven Wonders
  12. Big Love
  13. Landslide
  14. Never Going Back Again
  15. Over My Head
  16. Gypsy
  17. Little Lies
  18. Gold Dust Woman
  19. I’m So Afraid
  20. Go Your Own Way
  21. World Turning (First encore)
  22. Don’t Stop
  23. Silver Springs
  24. Songbird (Second Encore)

Copyright © 2014, Chicago Tribune

Steve Johnson / Chicago Tribune / Friday, October 3, 2014

2014-1002-chicago-tribune-steve-johnson-mediumSteve Johnson 
COLUMNIST | TRIBUNE REPORTER 
Steve Johnson covers arts and entertainment for the Chicago Tribune. In more than 25 years at the paper, he has written columns, reviews, news stories and features on topics from politics to television. He lives in Oak Park with his wife and two teenage sons. 
sajohnson​@tribune.com
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