Monday, May 25, 2009

(REVIEW) Fleetwood Mac Live in Oakland May 20, 2009

Planet Out

The music of mega group Fleetwood Mac has always sounded like a quiet storm to me… and not simply because of the song "Storm," the "Dreams" lyric: "Thunder only happens when it's raining" and the rain scene in the "Gypsy" video.

Between Mick Fleetwood's steady drumming, Christine McVie's precise keyboarding and Stevie Nick's haunting vocals, I just hear rain.

But I say a quiet storm because it's not a torrential downpour, it's not a day that you want to get shelter from -- unless it's to, dare I say it, "make love" on a four poster bed draped in velvet – but rather one best spent twirling around in the rain, with your inner-gypsy hanging out.

Still, there's something to the fact that just under the surface of much of this soft classic rock, there are underlying notes of the much talked-about, written-about, dwelled-upon Buckingham-Nicks break up. 

True, it was the end of their relationship that provided most of the inspiration for the classic 1977 "Rumours" album as well as a third of the 23-song set of their current "Unleashed" tour which hit Oakland Arena on May 20. The band played on at HP Pavilion in San Jose on May 21. 

On a sparse, black and white and red all over set (featuring little more than a handful of video screens, alternating between new visuals and timeless video clips), and bolstered by three backup singers, an added guitarist and a harmonizing keyboardist (presumably filling in for the decade-long absent Christine McVie) the quartet of singer Stevie Nicks, singer/guitarist Lindsey Buckingham, drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie tackled three decades of greatest hits and should-have-beens.

Opening with the some might say optimistic mid-tempo number "Monday Morning," the band began drawing fans in with the haunting breakup tracks "The Chain" and "Dreams," for which Nicks danced around in her black bustier dress with flowy skirts and sequined shoulder trim [she wore a red version in the second half of the show], clutched her scarved and chained mic stand, often gripping the sparkly semiprecious strands like rosaries or shook her tambourine, trailed by multi-colored streamers, as Buckingham strummed away. Nick's trademark raspy vocals and tambourine-playing were in top form and Buckingham's guitar-playing was spot on.

After welcoming Bay Area fans, Buckingham gave the audience the blood that they demanded by addressing the band's troubles over the years: "We have a convoluted and complex emotional history, and we've been together a long time, which works in our favor," he said. "We've taken long breaks, but every time we get back together it's different, but there's always forward motion." 

So while rehearsing for this greatest hits tour, without the pressure of selling a new album, the band decided to just have fun and "do the songs that we love a lot and hopefully the ones you love, too," he added. 

It was clear that "the man with the magic fingers" was enjoying himself, particularly his own guitar skills mid-show, even giving himself the proverbial pat on the back for his excellent riffing on tracks like the indelible "Tusk," "Big Love" and the Peter Green-era Fleetwood Mac number "Oh Well," complete with jumps that left him clutching his heart and mouthing "Yeah."

But the true magic happened when Buckingham and "our first lady" Nicks produced beautiful harmonies together on a slowed-down, country-fried version of "Gypsy," which Nicks said was about the wonderful time she and Lindsey spent in San Francisco during the 60's summers of love, on "Rhiannon," "Second Hand News," the first recorded song on the "Rumours" album, which Buckingham described as "a sad song, with some humor, optimism and a good dose of aggression," "Storms," a dark rarity about, according to Buckingham, "stormy, dark, deep, stormy, difficult problems" which features the evocative lyrics, "I'd like to leave you with something warm. But never have I been a blue calm sea. I have always been a storm," "Go Your Own Way," which morphed into a gorgeous psych jam session as Nicks twirled around in a top hat. 

While the rhythm section of drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie, the band's founders and backbones for the last 42 years, really shone at the end – I guarantee that no one will soon forget the wild-eyed, high energy drummer's solo during the encore section of the show -- the band sounded most in synch for one of my favorite songs, "Gold Dust Woman," for which a hunched-over Nicks, wrapped in a gold shawl appeared cobra-like, dancing hypnotically with her back to the audience, as the band accompanied her symbiotically.

But it was a moment during "Sara" where Nicks met Buckingham half way on stage and rested her head on his shoulder that was most bonding – that is until a shout from one crowd member was heard: "Don't do it." 

I realized at that moment that for many a fan, Fleetwood Mac needs the tension, that aforementioned quiet storm to succeed. If the band were one big lovefest all the time, we might not all have been there that night at Oakland Arena -- 30 years later.

(Images courtesy of Getty)

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