Saturday, December 20, 1975

Review Fleetwood Mac Nov. 27, 1975 Santa Monica Civic Auditorium

Ben Edmonds
Record World
December 20, 1975

LOS ANGELES - It's exceedingly rare that a group can undergo constant changes of personnel and maintain any semblance of qualitative consistency. It's rarer still when a group can not only continue to grow under the weight of those circumstances but actually achieve commercial and aesthetic heights untouched by any of its previous incarnations. Such a band is Fleetwood Mac (Reprise), and their Thanksgiving night performance at the Santa Monica Civic indicated that their tremendous 1975 boom in popularity has been anything but accidental, and represents in fact only the preliminary heights that this present- ensemble is certain to rise to. 

Against a stunningly tasteful backdrop designed by Christine McVie, the group delivered a lengthy set that could've been twice as long and probably wouldn't have exhausted the audience's enthusiasm. Quite simply, it was as satisfying as any musical experience I've had all this year. Yes, you heard me right. The factors that pushed this performance past mere greatness were a) the band's ability to sustain intensity through the entire show (as opposed to the favored rock formula which says you push it at the beginning and then save it 'til the end), b) their ability to be a band at all times in a given situation where every one of them is a star, and c) the full integration at last of Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. 

Though reserved and somewhat stiff in their early association with the band, the two newest members are now comfortable and confident enough that their performances match the fluidity and power of their musical contributions. They're now using up all that open stage space that they, as the frontpeople, are obligated to fill effectively if the show is to work. Stevie Nicks has developed into the kind of performer who elicits hard responses the way she previously generated only fascination. The audience liked her so much that they even shut up for her when she sang the acoustically backed "Landslide," quite a gesture indeed from a crowd that spent the rest of the evening vocally responding as if this was the last concert they were ever gonna be allowed to attend. 

Stevie's "Rhiannon" is probably the single most played track from their most recent (and best! and gold on top of that!) album, and the group's live treatment takes into account all of the rhythmic/ melodic qualities that make it such a pleaser on the LP but brings to it a power that the album version doesn't even begin to tell you about. On this and his own "I'm So Afraid," Lindsey Buckingham offers the most passionate explanation of why he should be considered certainly the most exciting guitarist Fleetwood Mac has ever boasted and, in time, may prove to be its best. His solo flights play soaring clusters of notes against dynamic chord bursts, never forgetting that the key to being a great lead guitarist is understanding how to be a great rhythm guitarist first. Where he at one time seemed totally self-absorbed, he's now matching his electrifying playing with a visual aggressiveness that's a pure delight to see at work.  

Buckingham's energy puts a much more forceful spotlight on the rhythm section of John McVie and Mick Fleetwood, and it's revealed to be the best pairing active in rock & roll, bar none. The restricted blues framework of the first Fleetwood Mac often required little more than the competence of its rhythm section, but the band's current wealth of diversified talent encourages them to make a more fully personalized contribution. This ongoing redefinition has provided the cutting edge that's made the difference in Christine McVie's songs between nice tunes and hits. "Over My Head" sounded like the hit that it so deservedly is; the band has come to terms with her pop inclinations in a way that accentuates her direct simplicity rather than following it. Based on the way the band presents her songs these days, it's a safe bet that her song catalogue is going to become valuable property in the coming months. 

It would be vastly incorrect to assume that Fleetwood Mac's newfound energy is supplied by the newcomers alone. The wonderful thing about this band now is that the push comes from all five directions, and it accounts for the equal revitalization of the older songs included in the set. Not only the standard favorites like "Green Manalishi," but rarer gems like "Why" and "Hypnotized" which are actually developed further toward the songs they could be than when they were first recorded. The only song less-than-inspiring was "Oh Well," which they could just as easily delete anyway. Their new personality is finally powerful enough that their audiences no longer feel pressed to relive the "hits," freeing the band to select only the best songs from their back catalogue, if they choose to do any old material at all. 

What they left their audience with above all, however, was a hunger for the great things that are going to be created by this band; the future that, after eight years, has finally opened up for Fleetwood Mac. If their next album can incorporate the dynamic energy of their live performances without sacrificing any of their studio discipline, then it's gonna be all but impossible to find a better band than Fleetwood Mac.