By Sam Adams
For The Inquirer
Early in Fleetwood Mac's show at the Wachovia Center Wednesday night, Lindsey Buckingham dropped a reference to the "convoluted emotional history" that spawned many of the band's best songs.
Rumours (1977), one of the best-selling albums of all time (and, given the state of the music industry, likely to remain so in perpetuity), was famously inspired by the simultaneous dissolution of the relationship between Buckingham and his then-girlfriend Stevie Nicks and the marriage of John and Christine McVie. Songs like "Go Your Own Way" and "Second Hand News" are more exultant than morose, but their slick surfaces are studded with spikes.
Wednesday's show, though, was all surface.
Supplemented by three backing singers and two guitarists who stood to the side and in the shadow, the core quartet of Buckingham, Nicks, John McVie, and drummer Mick Fleetwood rolled comfortably through a selection of their greatest hits. (Christine McVie left the band a decade ago.)
With 14 years elapsed since their last studio album, there was nothing to add to their repertoire, and only a handful of surprises in the set list: "I Know I'm Not Wrong," from the overreaching Tusk, and "Oh Well," reworked from the band's first incarnation as a British blues act.
Buckingham put on the semblance of a show, grunting and grimacing his way through a solo version of "Big Love," and frequently sounding out of breath, as if he'd just bounded on stage after running a few laps.
But his posture seemed dictated more by pose than passion. Buckingham is a true pop visionary, but he's also plainly enamored of his mad-scientist image, and prone to displaying his formidable guitar technique at excruciating length. Part of what makes "The Chain" and "Never Going Back Again" thrilling in their original versions is the way Buckingham's flourishes poke through the songs' watertight structures. Nowadays, his bandmates seem uninterested in reining him in.
Nicks seemed content to go through the motions, which didn't much faze the crowd; it's hard to think of another performer who could draw cheers just by spinning in a lazy circle.
Fleetwood and McVie stuck to the background, anchoring the songs without much in the way of flash. Fleetwood demonstrated both power and (with the exception of an ill-advised drum solo) grace, providing the kind of excitement his colleagues at the front of the stage couldn't quite seem to manage.