Fleetwood Mac is back on the road and
playing 'songs that people love'
by Jay Lustig/The Star-Ledger
Friday March 13, 2009
Musicians with a new album out will always swear it's their best work, ever, and they can't wait to play the new songs live.
Stevie Nicks doesn't have a new album right now. Her band, Fleetwood Mac, decided to tour without one. So she can speak the truth: New songs can be a pain.
Even when the band was touring behind its 1977 "Rumours" album, which went on to sell more than 30 million copies worldwide, "Nobody wanted to hear the 'Rumours' songs, just 'cause they were new," said the singer, who performs with the band at Madison Square Garden on Thursday and the Izod Center on Saturday.
"New songs always throw the whole set off. What happens is, you put way too many new songs in, and you get out there on the road, and every night you drop one because you're like, 'This isn't going over. People are going to the bathroom or buying T-shirts.' "
So this time around, the band is focusing on its hits: "Don't Stop," "Dreams," "Rhiannon," "Tusk," "Sara," "Go Your Own Way" and so many others.
"In terms of the actual song choices, it's not that hard," said singer-guitarist Lindsey Buckingham, who fronts the band with Nicks. "Probably 80 percent of the set is a no-brainer, because one of the things we have the luxury of looking at is a lot of hits. We have a good track record on radio, and if you go down the list of songs that were clearly radio hits, it defines what you're doing, to a certain degree, right there."
Just don't call it a greatest-hits tour.
"That sounds cheesy to all of us, and we hate that," said Nicks. "We're looking at it as an opportunity to go out and play the tapestry of songs that people love."
Buckingham said the tour also represents an opportunity to reconnect, musically, and take a first step toward making another studio album.
The band last toured together in 2004, and coming together without new material "does provide a hang time, or a proving ground," he said. "You get your musical chops up, not only as an individual, but in terms of how you play as a band over a period of time, and I think that we will be throwing some song ideas around."
After the tour is over, he said, "we'll take a break, and then go in the studio. It could be six months from now, it could be a year. But it is the intention to go in and do that."
Nicks discusses the possibility of a new album in a similar way: "Down the road, if this goes well -- which I'm sure it will -- maybe we'll do one last kick-ass Fleetwood Mac record, and then we can start worrying about the new songs again."
The tour represents the latest chapter in an epic rock tale that has been unfolding for more than 40 years.
The band first came together in England in 1967 as a blues-rock combo, taking its name from its rhythm section: drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie. The duo kept the band going with various other musicians for the next eight years before finding the golden mix: Fleetwood, McVie, lovers (and soon to be ex-lovers) Nicks and Buckingham, and McVie's wife Christine (soon to be his ex-wife) on keyboards and vocals.
It was a rocky time for everybody, personally. But the quintet's first two albums, 1975's "Fleetwood Mac" and "Rumours," were blockbuster hits. Its next three, 1979's "Tusk," 1982 "Mirage" and 1987's "Tango in the Night," all went at least double platinum (selling more than two million apiece) as well.
The decade from 1987 to 1997 was Fleetwood Mac's dark age, with Buckingham and then Nicks leaving, and the remaining musicians soldiering on with mixed results. Then came a reunion tour, followed by Christine McVie's decision to quit the band, and a new album (2003's "Say You Will") and tour without her.
"I didn't see it coming," said Nicks of Christine McVie's exit, adding that she was "a bit of a leader" in the band.
"When stuff wasn't going right, Christine was able to walk into the middle of the room and say, 'Listen, this is the way it's going to be. You guys have all lost your minds. And this is how we're going to do it.' And everybody listened to her. She was like our Mother Earth."
Nicks said the band now functions like a democracy, though people make their opinions known in different ways. "Lindsey and I are the obnoxious ones: We're the foot-stompers. John and Mick are the ones who look at us and go, 'Ah, there they go again.' But it always comes around, and it's OK. They know that, so they don't worry too much about it."
March 2008 news reports predicted that Sheryl Crow was going to replace McVie in the band. But this did not end up happening.
Nicks said she considers Crow a close friend, loves singing with her, and suggested she join the group. Crow, Nicks said, agreed, and then decided not to do it.
"Joining this band is like joining the army," Nicks said. "There's no time off. It's heavy, it's huge, it's grand, and it never stops once it starts. I told Sheryl this. I said, 'I want you to understand what you're getting into here.' She said, 'Are you trying to talk me out of it?' And I said, 'No honey, but I'm trying to make you understand what it is.'
"She called me back two days later and said, 'I think I'm going to have to pass.' And I said, 'As Stevie Nicks, I'm disappointed that I won't get to work with you. But as your friend, I think you're making the right decision.'"
Buckingham sees this episode differently, calling the idea of Crow joining the band "a complete hypothetical," and accusing her of mentioning it in the press in order to drum up publicity for her own album.
"It had not been decided," he said. "So it was presumptuous, and I think the timing might have been a little self-serving."
Buckingham said that after the Crow news broke in the press there were discussions about the matter that he was not in on, "and the whole thing just went away, which, in my mind, was a good thing. Because to bring in someone else ... it may work from a business sensibility. But from a musical sensibility ... it is problematic doing Christine's material, no matter how you do it, but it's much better for Stevie and I to try to interpret it in some sort of way than to bring in an extra person to do it, which struck me as a bit lounge-y."
Nicks and Buckingham both said Christine McVie is always welcome back in the band. Nicks in particular would love it if she returned.
"I really miss having the other girl in the band," she said. "Since 1975, I had this buddy: Christine was my best friend and my travelin' buddy -- the girl that you can talk to about everything that's going on."
That's part of what made her reach out to Crow. "It didn't come from the boys," she said. "The boys are always fine for it just to be the boys club. It was me that wanted another feminine energy."
Buckingham said the band invited Christine McVie to participate in this tour "as a matter of course," but that "there was not any real expectation that she would accept."
When the band finished touring in '98, he said, she let everyone know that she had simply had enough. Period.
"I certainly understand it," said Buckingham. "There are days where I think maybe that's what I should be doing, too. But I don't seem to have it in me. There's still something bubbling in there."