Sunday, March 22, 2009

REVIEW: Fleetwood Mac Live in East Rutherford, NJ March 21, 2009

by Jay Lustig
The Star-Ledger
March 22, 2009

At Fleetwood Mac's Saturday night Izod Center concert, singer-guitarist Lindsey Buckingham talked about getting together in January, after several years apart, to rehearse for the current tour. Band members told each other "Let's just have fun," he said.

At the Meadowlands, Buckingham, seemed to be doing just that, belting out songs, taking long, flamboyant guitar solos and stomping around the stage. Drummer Mick Fleetwood also seemed to be enjoying himself immensely -- every time the video camera caught his face in a closeup, he was smiling like a mischievous schoolboy who just got away with an outrageous prank. Bassist John McVie didn't seem to be having fun, or experiencing much emotion of any kind. Then again, he's been a stoic figure throughout his 40-plus years with the band, so it would have been foolish to expect anything else of him.

The biggest problem with the show was that singer Stevie Nicks, who co-fronts the band with Buckingham, didn't seem to get the fun memo. Granted, most of the songs she sang, such as "Dreams," "Sara," "Gypsy" and "Rhiannon," are low-key affairs, powered by subtle hooks and an air of mystery. But she sang them so half-heartedly they didn't exert their usual charm. It wasn't until the second half of the show, on songs like "Stand Back" and "Gold Dust Woman," that she seemed fully engaged.

Nicks' diffidence didn't kill the show: the repertoire the band has assembled over the years is too indestructible for that. But it kept a solid show from becoming transcendent.

The band's history goes back to the British blues-rock explosion of the '60s, But it wasn't until the mid-'70s, when the lineup settled on Fleetwood, McVie, Buckingham, Nicks and McVie's then-wife Christine McVie, that Fleetwood Mac became a hit-making machine. This is the band's second tour without Christine McVie, who retired from touring in 1998.
It's also a rare example of a Fleetwood Mac tour that doesn't follow the release of a new studio album. The band isn't necessarily done with recording, though. "We do not have a new album to promote -- yet," said Buckingham, as part of his "Let's just have fun" speech.

The four band members, who range in age from 59 (Buckingham) to 63 (John McVie), were joined by three other musicians and three backing vocalists at the Meadowlands. A sped-up beat added some urgency to "Monday Morning," while "Never Going Back Again" was slowed down to a melodramatic crawl. Singing together, Buckingham and Nicks turned Christine McVie's "Say You Love Me" into a lovers' duet, and Nicks sang McVie's parts on "Don't Stop." The band reached back to one of its earlier incarnations for the explosive blues-rock song "Oh Well" (written by the band's original frontman, Peter Green).

Buckingham shined on "Oh Well," as well as several other songs that gave him the opportunity to stretch out on guitar ("Second Hand News," "I'm So Afraid," "Go Your Own Way"). Mick Fleetwood also took a long solo during the first encore, "World Turning," though he is really at his best offering propulsive support to the rest of the band, not pounding away on his own.

Since the band doesn't have a new album to take up slots in the setlist, it was able to explore some past non-hits. Buckingham resurrected "I Know I'm Not Wrong," a song from the band's 1979 "Tusk" album that brims with manic energy. Nicks also went back to "Tusk" for "Storms," a song that was as calm and pensive as most of her other material, despite lyrics like "Never have I been a blue calm sea/I have always been a storm."

The band closed with "Silver Springs," a Nicks-written song inspired by her failed '70s romance with Buckingham. At times in the past, Nicks and Buckingham have seemed to relive their own stormy history as they performed this song together -- Nicks snarling out the angry lyrics, Buckingham answering with screaming guitar riffs. But on this night, they barely even looked at each other.

They're still in the same band. But in many ways, they seem to live in different worlds now.

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