The Westmorland Gazette
By Anthony Loman
WHEN Fleetwood Mac guitarist, singer and principal songwriter Lindsey Buckingham told the audience at Manchester’s M.E.N arena that, “This band have a complex and convoluted emotional history and it has not always been easy”, the comment was undoubtedly one of the understatements of the century.
For if the forty year plus rollercoaster life and times of the supergroup were ever to be dramatised, it would certainly make for the most compelling viewing with its tales of marital splits, inter-band affairs, acrimonious bust-ups, casual bed-hopping, copious amounts of drug taking/life-threatening addictions, alcohol abuse, mental illness, therapy and rehab, flirtations with religious cults and all this whilst simultaneously managing to create some of the finest and biggest selling albums of all-time.
The fact that Fleetwood Mac in 2009 are now, seemingly, the most stable of units is nothing short of a phenomenon and a testament to their individual and collective survival instincts. Messrs Buckingham, Stevie Nicks, Mick Fleetwood and John McVie (Christine McVie quit the band in ’98, opting for a quiet life these days down in Kent) have long since cleaned up their acts and settled their personal differences and, on the current ‘Unleashed’ world tour which rolled up in Manchester last week for a sell-out show, they convincingly demonstrated that their performance levels are as high now as any point previously in their lengthy career.
In the early 1970’s, Fleetwood Mac were a British blues/rock group whose moderately successful career up to that juncture had been seriously derailed by the departure(due largely to one too many bad acid ‘trips’) of founder member, legendary guitarist Peter Green. The group continued to splutter along for a while until the pivotal moment when an American duo, Buckingham and Nicks, joined the band. Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks were lovers as well as performers and came very much as a package, with Buckingham, having been identified as a replacement for Green(after a succession of other players had not worked out), refusing to join Mac unless his partner came ‘on board’ too. The introduction of the duo in 1975, who had previously been bit-part players on the West Coast music scene, struggling to eke out a living, succeeded in adding a radio-friendly sheen to Fleetwood Mac’s blue/rock roots, turning around their fortunes in the process and completely revitalising the group’s career. The now new look Anglo-American Fleetwood Mac embarked on a glorious period of unbroken musical success throughout the remainder of the 1970’s/early 80’s but the new chapter in the group’s history also heralded the start of those well-documented problems that very nearly destroyed the band.
The 2009 ‘Unleashed’ tour has a real celebratory triumph over adversity feel to it and the crowd-pleasing tone of the evening was set in place from the very moment Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham walked out on stage hand in hand to thunderous squeals of delight. And in truth, the two and a half hour show that followed did very much belong to the duo who were undeniably the main focal point with their great on-stage dynamic.
Fleetwood Mac don’t presently have any new album to promote, their last one being 2003’s ‘Say You Will’, though they did hint during the show that there could well be one in the offing, news that was met with great audience excitement. The set list of the current show is drawn largely from the group’s trilogy of 1970’s albums, the self-titled ‘Fleetwood Mac’, the 25 million plus selling ‘Rumours’ and ‘Tusk’, records which marked the band’s halcyon days. “This time we said, ‘let’s just go out and have fun’”, Buckingham told the crowd when explaining the show’s rationale and content and so, what was subsequently served up amounted to a veritable Fleetwood Mac musical feast for fans with great big dollops of classic songs such as ‘The Chain’, Dreams’, ‘Rhiannon’, ‘Gold Dust Woman’, ‘Gypsy’, ‘Oh Well’ – a solitary doff of the hat to the Peter Green Mac era, ‘Never Going Back Again’ and ‘Second Hand News’, which Buckingham introduced, with another reference to their ‘crazy’ years, by saying, “This next song, if memory serves, and these days it often doesn’t serve, due to living one’s life a certain way for a number of years, was the first song written for the Rumours album.”
Buckingham himself is, physically, remarkably well preserved these days and with his boyish, skinny frame, still thick though greying mop of tousled hair, makes a mockery of his sixty years. As for his guitar playing, it is nothing short of dazzling and if anyone present had any doubts beforehand about him deserving to be ranked right up there alongside the greats, they would surely have left the building utterly convinced that he is indeed, a bona fide guitar maestro. He plays his instrument with a manic intensity, at times a picture of almost demonic intent and his spine-tingling solo performance on acoustic guitar for ‘Big Love’ (from the ‘Tango In Night’ album) was something very special to behold, with his breakneck speed of hands building to an awesome finger-shredding climax. Elsewhere, he turned in immense solos on ‘Tusk’ and ‘Go Your Own Way’, shamelessly playing up to the crowd with his whoops and stomping of feet as well as his frequent forays to the very edge of the stage where, on bended knee while soloing, he allowed fans to run their eager fingers all along his guitar fretboard. He still sings great too, possessing a natural flair for harmonising and he does all this, whilst visibly drenched right through in sweat from the second song in yet never once bothering to remove his short black leather jacket in a great display of ultimate rock star ‘cool’.
Miss Stevie Nicks, the perfect onstage foil for Buckingham, still sports her career ‘uniform’ of cropped style riding jacket complete with floaty shawl, billowing skirt, suede platform boots and (occasional)Victorian top hat whilst her mic stand and tambourine are draped with trademark sheer scarves and long ribbons. At sixty-one, despite her years of hard living having clearly taken their toll on her looks and her once svelte figure certainly a little more rounded these days, Nicks remains effortlessly sexy and the epitome of Californian hippy/mystical chic. Her vocals however are her greatest seduction tool, as smoky and ethereal as ever and although she now noticeably avoids notes in the higher register, her dulcet tones still cast quite a spell.
There’s some lovely Buckingham/Nicks coming togethers’ during the show that are played out for maximum effect and which the audience readily lap up. A stunning Nicks rendition of ‘Landslide’ sees her alone on stage with her former paramour accompanying on acoustic guitar and, at the conclusion of ‘Sara’, the pair warmly embrace and hug, sway momentarily in each others arms with a resting of heads on shoulders and there’s a tender kiss from Buckingham to the back of Nicks’ hair. It’s all a little too stage managed but it’s a poignant moment nonetheless and elicits the intended crowd cheers.
As something of a backdrop to the Buckingham and Nick’s floor show, there’s the two ageing gents and somewhat unsung heroes of the group, bassist John McVie (64) and drummer Mick Fleetwood (62), driving things along at a frenetic pace as one of the tightest rhythm sections in the business. McVie, typically motionless and doing his best to avoid eye contact with all, hiding under his flat cap, could easily pass for a grizzled farmer that had just parked his tractor at the back and ambled on stage whilst the towering 6ft 6in Fleetwood, with his grey/white hair slicked back in a short ponytail, wild, wide-eyed gaze, white shirt and black waistcoat and, with those omni-present, what appear to be, pair of oversized clackers dangling from his waist, looks for all his worth as though he has come straight out of the pages of an old English medieval novel. And when he gets his big moment under the spotlight during a fairly lengthy drum solo towards the show’s end, he goes into full-on frenzy mode, battering the hell out of his monstrous kit as he barks out some incomprehensible words to the crowd and generally exhibiting characteristics of a deranged madman. The all-absorbing and enthralling concert reaches a real peak with everyone coaxed to their feet for the big crowd sing-a-long anthems that are ‘Go Your Own Way’ and the rousing encore of ‘Don’t Stop’. It leaves the audience on an exhilarating high and the final utterance from the stage of “We’ll see you next time” is a promise all present surely hope Fleetwood Mac will keep.