Sunday, June 07, 2009


Fleetwood Mac go their own ways

Imagine being in a wildly successful business. With your ex. For the rest of your life. And just to sweeten the pot, imagine that you would make your money by repeatedly rehashing the ups and downs of your long-dead romance. In public.

Faced with that prospect, there would be only three paths you could choose: 1) Refuse and stay home; 2) Do it and live in a state of constant angst and depression from having to pick at those scabs day after week after month after year; 3) Get over yourselves, find a way to get along and reap the rewards.

If anyone still harboured lingering doubts that Fleetwood Mac have wholeheartedly embraced the latter option, the band erased it with their Saturday night Greatest Hits Unleashed concert for 11,000 fans at MTS Centre. Well, four of the Mac did, anyway — singer-keyboardist Christine McVie took a powder out Door No. 1 a decade ago, leaving singer-guitarist Lindsey Buckingham, vocalist Stevie Nicks, drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie to make the best of it.

And make the best of it they have. "We decided to just go out and have fun," the 59-year-old Buckingham exclaimed early on in the proceedings, explaining why the veteran ’70s band are back on the road without a new album. Despite his claims, however — and despite a few moments of undeniable fun that occurred during their 150-minute program — the bulk of their 24-song set felt less like a party than one of those holiday gatherings where both sides of a divorced couple show up and everybody is very deliberately and very publicly on their best behaviour.

That much was apparent from the moment the band played their first song (fittingly, it was Monday Morning, the opening track from their self-titled 1975 album). Buckingham and his former paramour Nicks (who, it must be said, doesn't look anywhere near 61) entered from opposite corners and took up positions several yards away from each other on the massive stage. Behind them were 61-year-old drummer Fleetwood (with whom Nicks once also had an affair, just for the record) and 63-year-old bassist McVie (the only member who, lucky for him, no longer to share a stage with his ex). Flanking the rhythm section were two auxiliary musicians handling extra guitars and keyboards, plus a trio of female backup singers.

And for most of the rest of the night, that's more or less where everyone stayed — including Buckingham and Nicks. Each tended to work his or her own side of the stage. Each went and stood by a different side of Fleetwood's drum riser. And most importantly, each seemed to honour some sort of invisible buffer zone between them. It wasn't that they were ignoring each other; they kept their eyes locked on one another during several songs, and Nicks often turned her mic 90° to face Buckingham while singing. But aside from a few very noticeable moments (we'll get to those in a minute), they didn't physically interact or even come close to sharing a mic (though the side-stage video screens took care of that by almost continually broadcasting a split-screen of the duo). Given that Buckingham reportedly called Nicks some pretty nasty names back in the day — you can look them up on the Interweb for yourself — we'd say it's impressive enough that they're willing to coexist, never mind behave in such a perfectly civilized manner.

For the most part, the rest of the concert was just as civilized. And just as perfect. Perhaps a little too much so in both regards. Granted, it's impossible to complain about any of the musical aspects of the performance. McVie was a rock-solid presence both rhythmically and geographically, never straying from Fleetwood's right flank or from his downbeat. Fleetwood was a god of thunder behind his kit, laying down an endless series of pounding, tribal tom-tom rhythms while sporting a maniacally gleeful grin that gave him the look of a mad English professor. Nicks, whose voice can come off as braying at times, was in fine, powerful form (except, perhaps on Don't Stop, where she seemed to struggle with the high notes) — and she changed clothes faster and more often than a runway model to boot (we gave up counting her outfits after a while, though it quickly became apparent she's singlehandedly keeping the shawl and tassel industries alive).

But when it was all said and done, Buckingham definitely earned the MVP award for the night. Not only were his vocals strong and spot-on; his blazing needlepoint finger-picking was nothing short of stunning. Thankfully, there was plenty of it on display, culminating in an extended, soaring solo during I'm So Afraid that brought him a richly deserved standing O (one of several the players earned during the night).

Nor could you quibble about the technical aspects of the show. The stage was backed and capped by giant illuminated panels that moved and interacted with a tasteful lighting design emphasizing deep, monochromatic shades. The set list was chock full of hits and fan favourites like Rhiannon, Second Hand News, Tusk and Gold Dust Woman. It was also exceedingly well-paced, gradually building in intensity to a propulsive Go Your Own Way. There was a mini-acoustic section in the middle — with Nicks crossing the stage to embrace Buckingham before he performed Big Love solo. Fleetwood delivered a pulverizing, energized and interactive solo, after coming down from his drum riser to thump on a smaller set during a couple of quieter songs. Nicks and Buckingham told a few lengthy, endearingly rambling stories behind songs like Gypsy and Dreams. Nicks did plenty of her witchy-woman moves. Buckingham pretended to collapse on stage at one point. The two even came out holding hands for the encore.

Despite all that, however, there was still something missing. A big part of that something was Christine McVie. Without her rich pipes — and, just as importantly, the songs on which she handled lead vocals — Fleetwood Mac end up being something of a two-legged stool: The Stevie and Lindsey Show. Not that there's too much wrong with that. But the other thing that was missing was even more vital: There weren't enough true, honest sparks of excitement and immediacy to go around. Maybe it's because there appears to be little room for variation in their show — they've been playing the same songs, in the same order, and even seem to have been wearing the same outfits since they started this tour in March. So aside from few previously mentioned moments of fun — notably during a hard-driving, Nicks-free rendition of the Peter Green-era blues-rock gem Oh Well, and that ear-piercing solo from Buckingham — it all felt a little too comfortable, a little too slick, a little too safe.

Which is not to suggest that Buckingham and Nicks get drunk, fall into bed and then have it out onstage or anything. After all, we suspect once was enough for both of them. But even though we're glad we got to see Fleetwood Mac in this lifetime, we have to say once was probably enough for us too.

Set List
Monday Morning
The Chain
I Know I'm Not Wrong
Go Insane
Second Hand News
Big Love (Buckingham solo)
Landslide (Nicks and Buckingham)
Never Going Back Again (Nicks and Buckingham)
Say You Love Me
Gold Dust Woman
Oh Well
I'm So Afraid
Stand Back
Go Your Own Way

First Encore
World Turning
Drum Solo
Don't Stop

Second Encore
Silver Springs

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