Content Warning: this post contains an analysis of boomer music.
Last night I was dragged to see Fleetwood Mac at SAP Center by a buddy who had an extra ticket. A very nice ticket at that, just behind the soundboard ,the perfect place for the audio experience of a show if you know much about music. I was intentionally boycotting this show given the treatment of Fleetwood Mac of their long time guitarist, producer, song writer, and artistic soul of the band, Lindsey Buckingham. They kicked him out of the band earlier this year, and the rumours have it that it was because Stevie didn’t want Lindsey doing extra leg work of acoustic rarities shows in between their very slow schedule of one gig every three days. Lindsey, being a creative energetic, wanted to put out an album and go to work in addition to the money-making yet another greatest hits tour.
Instead of resolving the differences, Stevie gave an ultimatum to the band: “it’s him or me.” Since she fills arenas on her own, they made the business decision to make a few million bucks and tour anyway. They grabbed some really good talent to replace Lindsey in Mike Campbell from Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers and Neil Finn, an accomplished songwriter in his own right.
But, my buddy told me he’d be spending the night at home if I didn’t go, I was his last hope, and so I relented and went to this show. I saw Lindsey Buckingham’s solo tour at the palace of fine arts a couple of months ago, and while he didn’t have the full band experience here, he played with passion, played rarities, did what he wanted as an artist and is as sharp as he’s ever been. Not so much for the rest of the band…
Mac opened with “The Chain” as they’ve done in every tour since 1982’s Mirage Tour. Immediately I noticed a lackluster energy from the group. The dynamic wasn’t there. Lindsey really brought an angry passion to this pop group which just doesn’t exist with the two-girl fronted version of the band. They tested this line up before in 1992 with “Behind The Mask” where they made an album without Lindsey. It just ended up a cheesy mess. It felt similar here with Finn taking on Lindsey’s vocal parts. My buddy, not a big fan like me, noted “He seems like a really good karaoke singer.” It did feel like that. He sang fine, just without the passion Buckingham brought to the songs and so it made everything flat.
And that’s how the concert felt. Flat all the way. No passion to anything they did. They play these same songs on every single tour with little variation–even picking the Buckingham songs to sing that were wholly unnecessary with Stevie/Christine’s catalogue as they could have easily covered up the blatantly awkward “Now Neil Finn is singing!” parts of the concert with some of their other hits — or dare to do something cool and play some of their other songs. But they didn’t. It was a very similar set to what we’ve seen over the years.
Now there was one difference and this was the shining element of the show, the one saving grace: They did 3 blues songs from early FM: “Black Magic Woman”, “Oh Well”, and surprisingly “Tell Me All The Things You Do” from the Kiln House album. The last one was particularly impressive, as it’s not something I’ve heard them do, and it brought a cool vocal dynamic between Christine and Finn which was a lot of fun. Stevie Nicks singing Black Magic Woman was pretty amusing as well, but she was off the stage through most of this section of the show, and the band just has zero charisma without her. Christine looks old and frail, Finn looks out of place and knows it, and Campbell just kinda is running around the stage being weird throughout the whole show.
What made this tough to sit through was the lack of charisma and energy all around. I feel bad for Christine especially, I’ve seen her a few times over the last few years, and since she’s come back from her 10-year hiatus retirement, she just hasn’t been the same. Her voice is pitchy, missing flat on a lot of the solid points, and she obviously knows it, seems very unconfident up there. Keyboard wise, I saw her do more in this show than I’ve seen her do in years, but as a keyboardist myself, I frankly could have done more in the blues songs to wow the crowd. It was nice to see her do what she used to do to some extent though, but she just doesn’t have the chops she used to.
Another oddity was Mike Campbell’s guitar playing. While he’s definitely a virtuoso, and he played most of the songs fine, he missed some of the subtle points of buckingham’s texturing that made the songs sound fantastic. I noticed this especially in “Gypsy” and “Dreams”, the Nicks hallmark songs where the parts really aren’t so much about their complexity, but about the lilting tones Buckingham was able to squeeze from his guitar. The emotion just wasn’t right here in anything Campbell did. And Campbell laid back a little too far to feel like he was dragging songs with his guitar. Usually musicians rush to cause problems, but he went too far in the opposite direction. It made his parts awkward and not quite right on the guitar level throughout the entire show.
Most lackluster of all was Stevie Nicks. She’d lost her voice a long time ago and doesn’t sound the same, but she had a distinct “going through the motions” air to her for the first half of the show. She doesn’t have pitch issues like Christine, but she is the entire charisma of the aged band at this juncture and it was just like she didn’t care for the first half of the show. Contrasting to Lindsey’s solo show a couple months prior, he had so much passion through everything that it dripped. The lack of that dynamic really killed the band. Most shocking of all, was there was a technical difficulty where Stevie lost her in .ear monitor in the middle of Landslide — she actually screwed up singing, stopped the song mid way through, a big no-no for an artist. As a singer it’s particularly easy to recover but she didn’t. It was one of the most bizarre missteps I’ve seen from a big band in any concert I’ve seen.
The good news was, after Landslide, it was like she woke up and realized “I’d better nail this.” Her passion level went up for “Gold Dust Woman” which was one of her better renditions of the song I’ve seen in the last 20 years. The encore song they did Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’” which Stevie covered back in 1996, running a tribute video to him. It was fine and good, can’t complain about homaging Petty, but it was still another reminder that we’re missing something — missing Buckingham in particular.
They have a robust backing band of nearly every instrument excepting a bass guitar, so the band doesn’t have to do a lot of the heavy lifting to sound reasonable on most songs, but there were enough missteps to where it was awkward the whole way through, the fun was sapped from a lot of the classics, and Christine’s inability to perform made for a sad evening.
The band made their choice. They wanted to make a few bucks and it didn’t matter what Buckingham wanted artistically. Seems par for the course of the drama-laden career of this band. I’m going to go back and listen to the Tusk album now, an album where they didn’t play a single song from on this night, Buckingham’s magnum opus of beautiful art that was what he wanted, but clearly Stevie Nicks resents.
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