REVIEW: Fleetwood Mac plays hit after greatest hit

Fleetwood Mac
Moda Center at the Rose Quarter
Portland

“Sweet wonderful you,” Christine McVie sang, all smiles. “You make me happy with the things you do.”

That was pretty much the vibe at Fleetwood Mac’s concert at the Moda Center on Saturday night; five senior citizens touring again for the first time in 16 years, playing their hits like time stopped and it was 1979 again, with more hugs and without all the cocaine. McVie’s decision to return created a pocket of warmth on the left side of the stage and energized her bandmates, who couldn’t stop talking about how happy it made them to play with “our beautiful Christine,” as Lindsey Buckingham called her. Here’s a review in the form of an annotated setlist, 20 songs deep:

“The Chain”: Christine comes out and slides behind her keyboards like she’s never been away, 71 and looking great. Stevie Nicks is center stage, Buckingham is stage right, Mick Fleetwood atop a huge drum kit, John McVie almost invisible in a cap and red vest. There are two extra musicians behind the McVies and three backup singers, providing a fuller sound that’s immediately put to use on the chorus. First impression: Buckingham is really on it, breaking off a clean solo with that amazing fingerpicking technique.

“You Make Loving Fun”: Christine’s first solo vocal of the evening is strong and clear — that’s what 16 years off will do for your voice. She once wrote a song called “Warm Ways,” and warmth is the best word to describe her. She’s Christine Perfect from the Lake District of England, and it’s lovely to see her back onstage.

“Dreams”: Any band is a brand, and a band as big as Fleetwood Mac creates and maintains a brand that stays in people’s minds and brings them to a concert where the newest songs were recorded 26 years ago. The brand doesn’t change, the songs stay on the radio and sound as fresh as ever, but the players — the ones that only love you when they’re playing — get older. All the members of Fleetwood Mac are at least 65 and have been performing since they were teenagers. Time waits for no one.

Which is one way of saying that Stevie Nicks’ voice, always husky and evocative, sometimes sounds hoarse and flat, like it did on the first verse of “Dreams.”

“Second Hand News”: Fleetwood, who loves a kick-drum intro, pounded it out and Buckingham took it from there. Short and sweet.

“Rhiannon”: Nicks put on her black witch shawl and vamped a little as the rear-screen projection flashed some images that were a combination of “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Song Remains the Same.” And speaking of Tolkien, if Fleetwood Mac was “The Lord of the Rings” then Mick would be Gandalf, John McVie would be Samwise Gamgee, Buckingham would be Aragorn, Christine would be Gimli, and Stevie would be Frodo, keeper of the Ring.

“Everywhere”: Christine thanked the audience — warmly, sincerely — and sang one of her hits.

“I Know I’m Not Wrong”: Welcome to the Lindsey Buckingham show. He gave a little rap about how having Christine back “feels very circular,” then played the first of two numbers from “Tusk,” his masterpiece (but not the band’s).

“Tusk”: Slow build led by Buckingham, Christine strapped on an accordion (not that you could hear it), and the light show morphed into the famous USC marching band footage. Worked for me.

“Sisters of the Moon”: Stevie’s found her voice! Maybe the lower register fits the 2014 Stevie. This song is the one Stevie lovers love most.

“Say You Love Me”: Christine’s songs are all about love, pure and true. The lyrics are direct and sincere and timeless. Is it possible to have a crush on a woman old enough to be your mother?

“Seven Wonders”: More grooviness from Her Royal Stevieness, wrapped up with a shout-out to “American Horror Story” for bringing the song back around.

“Big Love”: Why did Buckingham never become a solo star the way Nicks did? He has so much talent: great voice, charisma, brilliant, unusual guitar technique, outstanding writer and performer. The biggest reason why Fleetwood Mac was so successful the late 1970s was it had three songwriters — Buckingham, Nicks, Christine McVie — coming up with one radio-friendly classic after another. But somebody had to be the boss and bring the sound into a whole live and in the studio, and that person was Buckingham. He was the driving force, the Lennon and the McCartney on “Rumours” and definitely on “Tusk,” and it took so much out of him that he quit after “Tango in the Night,” the last studio album with this lineup and originally a Buckingham solo album. He’s been the backbone of all the tours for the last 25 years and it seems to me forgotten as a live performer by those who see Fleetwood Mac as an oldies band. (Which they are, let’s face it.)

“Landslide”: Hearing Stevie play this is like hearing Neil Young play “Old Man.” They’ve grown into the song, and it means more now.

“Never Going Back Again”: Slow and easy, Buckingham whispered his vocal. He hugged Nicks when it was over.

“Over My Head”: “I wrote this one in 1975,” Christine said. Fleetwood’s out front, playing a smaller kit.

“Gypsy”: Long, funny introduction from Stevie about being in a band in San Francisco, going into a hippie clothing store called The Velvet Underground, following your dreams, etc. Best video of the night: rainy San Francisco, kinda noir. Lighting strikes, maybe once, maybe twice. Stevie spins!

“Little Lies”: The last top 10 hit for Fleetwood Mac, unless “American Horror Story” uses a deep cut from “Tusk” or something.

“Gold Dust Woman”: Stevie shuffled across the stage, and for a minute I wasn’t sure she was going to make it back. Cool outro from Ms. Nicks.

“I’m So Afraid”: The first of three big fat highlights for me. I love the desperate isolation in the lyric, and then Buckingham shredded a showcase solo. It’s one thing to finger-pick an acoustic, but getting that kind of big sound out of an electric without a pick is fascinating to watch.

“Go Your Own Way”: Buckingham was out of breath after “I’m So Afraid”; Nicks put on a top hat and waved to the fans. Cell phones light up before the encore. The woman next to me pulled out a lighter and people congratulated her.

“World Turning”: The first song of the encore meant a drum solo for Fleetwood.

“Don’t Stop”: The one song in the Fleetwood Mac catalog that feels overplayed. It’s not you, it’s me.

“Silver Springs”: (Highlight No. 2) How great an album is “Rumours” that this beauty didn’t make the cut? The flip side of “Go Your Own Way,” maybe Stevie’s loveliest lyric. She saved her best performance for last, and thanked the fans for remembering the song. Who can forget?

“Songbird”: (Highlight No. 3): Christine at a grand piano, Buckingham at her side, playing another wide-open love song, wedding music for a generation of happy couples, at least on that day. It’s all right. I know it’s right.

Jeff Baker / The Oregonian / Sunday, November 23, 2014

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