|Photo: Chris Clark|
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By John Serba
GRAND RAPIDS, MI – The anguished interpersonal drama in Fleetwood Mac is long dead, but something that informed the songs and still defines the band. Judging from its performance at Van Andel Arena Tuesday night, the group’s driving force is now something resembling joy.
Playing in front of a sold-out crowd, a happy and reflective Fleetwood Mac were joined by keyboardist and singer Christine McVie, who’s participating in the group’s latest tour after an absence dating back to 1998. So consider the reunion of the band’s five core members another lingering dysfunction conquered, and celebrated early in the show. Opening number “The Chain” showcased the strong vocal harmonies of singer Stevie Nicks, guitarist Lindsey Buckingham and McVie, who was then spotlighted for “You Make Loving Fun.” It was a grand re-introduction for McVie.
Taking the microphone later in the show, Buckingham discussed how Fleetwood Mac’s notorious ups and downs are key to its essence; he referred to a time when the band was swayed by the false idea that a certain lifestyle was necessary to create rock ‘n’ roll – a thinly veiled reference to his long-disintegrated relationship with Nicks, and the band’s past drug use. His subsequent solo rendering of “Big Love” swayed any accusations of insincerity, featuring an impassioned vocal and intricate, aggressive finger-picked guitar work.
The number was immediately followed by sentimental classic song “Landslide,” featuring only Nicks - gorgeous of voice - and Buckingham. As she sustained a note near the conclusion, she stretched her hand out to Buckingham’s and smiled with sad eyes. They then played “Never Going Back Again,” and as the song ended, she stood with her back to the audience as the guitarist hugged her sweetly.
Sure, maybe such drama can be a little corny in light of the infamous Fleetwood Mac soap opera, but it seemed warm, genuine and inclusive, the audience understanding the group’s complex dynamic.
Of course, that’s smack in the realm of expectation for a Fleetwood Mac live performance this deep into the 21st century. Same goes for the set list - 24 songs, you know all of them - and the production, which featured a towering high-definition screen.
Despite her mystical aura having faded over the decades, Nicks was still in vintage form - silk scarves and a tambourine, fringe for days, high heels you can see from the moon. And her voice was still as husky as it is sweet, slow like smoldering honey during “Dreams,” “Gypsy” and “Silver Springs.” During “Gold Dust Woman,” she held her head in her hands and shuffled from one end of the stage to another, as if possessed by the musical psychedelia behind her, then curtsied deeply at song’s conclusion.
Where Nicks’ voice and Buckingham’s guitar gave the group its flamboyance and star power, McVie’s strong vocal work, along with drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie, were its musical foundation. “World Turning” featured Fleetwood playing a pointless drum solo, too long by half; at least he showed no signs of the stomach flu that derailed the band’s Saturday concert in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Last September, another boomer favorite, the Eagles, played on the same stage to the same generation of audience (both of whom can swallow an expensive ticket – Fleetwood seats topped out at $180, and that’s before the ripoff secondary market jacks up the prices). Where the Eagles were nearly perfect in performance but ultimately antiseptic, Fleetwood Mac was occasionally rough around the edges – a sloppy run through “Go Your Own Way” closed the main set – and mixed loud and a little distorted, a reminder that this is a rock ‘n’ roll band still capable of stirring up a little drama on stage.