Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Rumours redux


Fleetwood Mac, Friday, 8 p.m.
GM Place, Vancouver, BC Canada

In an age when the neighbourhood record store has given way to the digital download site, where listeners can cherry-pick their songs and never bother with a B-side, the incentive for musicians to make albums as events is fading fast.

Arguably, the democratization of music distribution has been a good thing for both artists and fans, removing the gatekeepers that traditionally stood between them. But what is lost, perhaps, amidst this revolution is the idea of a capital-A Album, a body of work to be consumed as a whole.

Anyone attending this Friday's sold-out Fleetwood Mac concert will likely see this as a tragedy. From their blues-y beginnings, to their forays into prog rock, to their most famous incarnation - the chart-topping band that released Rumours and Tusk - Fleetwood Mac have always had more to say than just singles. With some 17 members coming and going since the group started in 1967, this is a band that is more than the sum of its parts.

The iteration of the 'Mac performing at GM Place is almost certainly the most well-known, save the absence of one member. Of the five musical powerhouses that gave the world the triple-assault of Fleetwood Mac (1975), Rumours (1977) and Tusk (1979), four are back to rekindle the magic. Founding member Mick Fleetwood, John McVie, Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks are all in for the group's first tour since 2004. Only Christine McVie, seemingly still gun-shy of the group's infamously difficult interpersonal relations, has opted out - a disappointment, to be sure, but not an insurmountable challenge.

Speaking on a conference call in late February, the foursome about to head out as Fleetwood Mac sounded excited to hit the road throughout the United States and Canada on their Greatest Hits Unleashed Tour. With no new album to promote, save a remastered edition of Rumours, the quartet of legendary musicians bubbled with enthusiasm at the idea of playing what they pleased.

"This is truly a new experience for Fleetwood Mac," said Fleetwood, clearly in the mood to wax poetic. "To go out and truly go and play songs that we believe and hope that people are really going to be familiar with and love to do. We haven't done this. Some bands, which is fine, go around doing this year after year, year in, year out."

This translates, practically, into something of a greatest hits tour, though the group is hesitant to look at it that way. While reviews so far have proved that audiences are going to hear their favourites, there's also clearly a mission among the group to really dig in to the "experience" of Fleetwood Mac.

"It takes a little pressure off not having to kind of reinvent anything this particular time," said Buckingham, in his reedy California accent. "And I think because of that we are actually able to just look at the body of work and choose from that [so we can] have a little bit more fun with it than we would normally be able to have."

Chatting to each other between questions from a phalanx of North American journalists, the band members sound like they are getting along famously. But part of the Fleetwood Mac legend is the romantic tensions between members of the group, with Nicks and Buckingham (and the now-divorced McVies) notorious for having group-melting fallouts.

"Lindsey has been in incredibly good humour since we started rehearsal on the fifth of January," said Nicks, with remarkable candour. "And when Lindsey is in a good humour, everybody is in a good humour. When he's happy, everybody is happy."

Both Buckingham and Fleetwood concur (McVie barely says a word during the whole interview), and indeed it's fairly amazing that the group is able to discuss personal issues so openly, without stepping on any toes. Indeed, the only time anyone in the group prickles is when the subject of Tusk comes up, with one brazen journalist suggesting that the record, at the time the most expensive album ever made, constituted an indulgence on the part of the five musicians who created it.

"We never looked at it as some sort of opulent indulgence," insists Fleetwood, sounding galled by the idea.

"I might absolutely add it was paid for by the individuals that you're talking to, in order, in our world, to present something that was going to be more meaningful and more special . To me it doesn't personally feel like any form of indulgence at all . It's really about the integrity of what we do. And we've always taken the responsibility to make the very best effort to do that . .

"It was a privilege, and in truth everyone you're speaking to paid for that privilege . You can actually be in the studio for, you know, nine months, but you have to pay for it. And the fact that we didn't go in there and say, 'Well, it's been three weeks, get the hell out of here and just shove something out,' I think actually speaks well of where this band puts its mettle."

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