Concert review: No weak links in Fleetwood Mac’s chain
For a band that was once famously defined by personal drama and rancour, Fleetwood Mac’s members were almost as generous toward one another as they were to the nearly 12,400 fans who spent 2 1/2 hours in their company at the Bell Centre Thursday night.
The narrative of this tour is the return of keyboardist Christine McVie, which completes the group’s most popular lineup for the first time since 1998. She certainly received her due welcome from the audience and from her bandmates, but the quintet shared the glory, both between its members and as an ensemble.
And what glory. There’s no new album to promote (although one is in the works), and the most recent numbers in Thursday’s show were from the 1987 disc Tango in the Night, with more than half of the set list drawn from the 1975 self-titled release and 1977’s world-conquering Rumours. But this didn’t feel like a nostalgic evening. The performance was absolutely contemporary and, with McVie back, there was an air both of taking care of unfinished business and setting up a new venture.
The crackling energy was there from the walk-on to “The Chain,” while drummer Mick Fleetwood’s clockwork timekeeping, John McVie’s strapping bass and Lindsey Buckingham’s swampy guitar telegraphed that the band’s locked-in interplay hadn’t diminished. (About the only wrong note of the night was a breakdown in the Bell Centre welcome staff’s usual military efficiency, with security checks causing a chaotic logjam at the entrance.)
Speaking of precision, Stevie Nicks made an early note that this was the 51st show of the tour. “In the beginning, I would have said: a) ‘Welcome, Montreal,’ and second, ‘Welcome, Chris.’ … Today I think we can say, with caution abandoned, ‘She’s ba-ack!’ ”
Charismatic even when she was rooted in place, Nicks went on to lose herself inside “Dreams” before Buckingham — the only member to routinely venture to the lip of the stage — led a bracing “Second Hand News” as if the 38-year-old cut was being shared for the first time. Although Christine McVie’s upper-register vocals were a touch strained in Everywhere (but appealingly earthy everywhere else), that sunny delight was also rejuvenated, and stripped of its ’80s gloss.
Buckingham offered his own welcome to McVie when he spoke of “beginning a profound and prolific new chapter.” It may not have been a coincidence that Fleetwood Mac’s most forward-thinking member said this before a mini-block from 1979’s Tusk, the band’s messy masterpiece of art over commercialism.
The title track’s marching-band strangeness remained delightfully odd — and not just by this group’s classicist standards — with Christine McVie on accordion, Buckingham playing the madman card to the hilt, and three auxiliary players contributing more than the almost imperceptible shading offered elsewhere. Nicks’s carefully possessed lead in Sisters of the Moon was supplemented by haunted harmonies from an understated trio of backup singers.
The quick-change pacing of the show’s first hour or so turned far more casual in the back half, starting with an intimate acoustic section that could have taken place in a club setting. Buckingham made conversation before his solo performance of Big Love, once “a contemplation on alienation and now a meditation on the power and importance of change.” True to his words, the solemn but flashy fingerpicking was a revelation, and far removed from the slick original. Nicks joined Buckingham for “Landslide,” stunning in its stillness, before the duo added a note of darkness to “Never Going Back Again.”
“Over My Head” saw the return of the full band, the introduction of Fleetwood’s front-of-stage “cocktail kit” and a reminiscence from Christine McVie about the time spent “sort of floundering, looking for a new guitarist” before Buckingham joined for the eponymous 1975 album. Setting up “Gypsy,” Nicks offered a history lesson of her own, a touching recollection of window shopping at San Francisco’s Velvet Underground rock-star clothing boutique before she was a star herself. The songs-and-stories format may have helped slow the show’s momentum, but they also helped make one of the top-selling bands in the world seem approachable.
The home stretch included a number of extended showcases: “Gold Dust Woman” climaxed with Nicks swaying across the stage in a glittering shawl; Buckingham enjoyed a caustic centrepiece in “I’m So Afraid”; Fleetwood had the stage to himself for a crazy-eyed shamanic routine in the middle of “World Turning.”
But of course, “Go Your Own Way” and “Don’t Stop” were the real climactic crowd-pleasers, with those larger-than-life harmonies as potent as ever. The quintet’s camaraderie was at its strongest in the former, with the tireless Buckingham speeding around Nicks, who had donned a bejewelled top hat, and careering into John McVie.
Fleetwood’s splashy introductions of his colleagues in the encore were brimming with affection: Buckingham with his “beady eye on the future,” Nicks the “eternal romantic,” John McVie “always on my right-hand side,” Christine McVie “making all of this so complete — our songbird has returned.”
Nice tee-up, as McVie returned for a second encore of “Songbird,” delivering her most tender vocal of the night accompanied only by Buckingham. It was a poignant final word, given an equally poignant afterword when Nicks made an endearingly rambling speech. In all her cosmic wisdom, she credited the audience for willing McVie back into the band. Her gratitude for the circle being unbroken tied into Buckingham’s earlier prediction of a “profound and prolific new chapter.” We’ll see about prolific. In light of the rewards from Thursday’s concert, profound is a fait accompli.
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Jordan Zivitz / Montreal Gazette / Friday, February 6, 2015