Concert review: Stevie Nicks, Pretenders set the gold standard in Pittsburgh
Wasn't Stevie Nicks one of the quiet ones in Fleetwood Mac?
She isn't now. All that stage banter saved up over the decades is spilling out on the 24 Karat Gold Tour, where she talks for 24 minutes between songs.
Ok, not really. I kid the diva (at my own peril!). It’s more like four minutes, and despite her bewitching image, she's not a diva at all, in the negative sense. We hesitate to apply the term “down to earth” to Stevie Nicks, because she seems to be hovering above it, but she's actually very sweet (I spoke with her on the phone years ago and she’s the kind of person who asks YOU questions about yourself).
This tour, which began in October and hit the PPG Paints Arena Friday on its second leg, is very much about her and how she came to be a star in and out of Fleetwood Mac. It's a “storytellers” tour without using that word, and on Friday night it was being filmed for posterity, giving it the feel of a live documentary in the making.
The odd thing about that is that usually people do the storyteller thing in an intimate theater setting, not a packed arena, here on a Girls’ Night Out Friday.
For starters, she brought along an old friend in Chrissie Hynde, the tough rocker from Akron, Ohio, fronting the latest version of the Pretenders, a band that emerged in the punk era of the late ‘70s as a counter-punch to the FM-friendly likes of Fleetwood Mac.
Clearly, the two Rock and Roll Hall of Famers love each other now, and Hynde even said “I love you, Stevie” after dedicating a beautiful version of the feminist ballad “Hymn to Her” to the headliner, along with all the rest of the songs in the set. The musical bond would jell even more later.
This concert was well placed on the calendar because over the last week Hynde has been canceling shows with a respiratory ailment, but in Pittsburgh (which she praised as a city that’s held on to its past) she seemed to be feeling no ill effects. The 65-year-old’s voice is still a wonder to behold — rich, sexy, forceful — and she cut a sharp figure in tight pants, boots and a sleeveless Recycled Records T-shirt. For this occasion, she settled on the nicer, mid-tempo Pretenders songs like “Back on the Chain Gang,” “Talk of the Town” and “Message of Love,” rather than such punk ragers as “Precious” and “The Wait.”
She actually seemed to care if Stevie’s fans liked her, and most did, but far too many were flooding in the aisles, just getting to their seats or getting up for beers, and with no real urgency.
Backed by one original Pretender in drummer Martin Chambers (Brits Pete Farndon and James Honeyman-Scott tragically died young) they added a pair of songs from new album “Alone” (including the bluesy, fuzzed-out title track) and finished with a solid run of “Stop Your Sobbing,” “My City Was Gone,” “Middle of the Road” and a typically sassy “Brass in Pocket.” Along the way, James Walbourne, of Pernice Brothers and Son Volt fame, provided the best guitar heroics of the whole night.
Stevie did not follow that by strutting out with one of her radio warhorses. She arrived in black lacy dress, cape and fingerless gloves, offset by her golden hair, on a gorgeously illuminated stage with deep cut “Gold and Braid,” setting the tone for a concert culled from what she described as the “dark Gothic trunk of lost songs.”
After following that with ‘80s synth-rocker “If Anyone Falls,” she said, “This is not the same Stevie Nicks show you’ve seen a million times, because I’m not the same Stevie Nicks you've seen a million times.”
In the good ways she is, though, because she is remarkably well preserved at 68, including that beguiling voice that can be at once lovely and dissonant.
The storyline centered on balancing her solo career with her day job in Fleetwood Mac. Being one of three singer-songwriters in that superstar band (with former flame Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie), there was, and is, the Beatles-like dilemma of getting your songs on the album.
When she decided in late 1980 to go solo with “Bella Donna,” “I wasn’t going to be like Beyoncé and break up my band,” she said, wisely appending that statement with praise and respect for the Queen. “I got Fleetwood Mac in a room and said, ‘Fleetwood Mac, I want to do a solo album, but it won't hurt us at all. It will only keep us in the spotlight while you're on vacation.’ ”
Providing some of the spark for that was Tom Petty handing her the smash single “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around,” a contender for best rock duet of all time, and on the PPG stage, her sidekick guitarist Waddy Wachtel had to be pinching himself to be in a threesome with Stevie and Chrissie, singing, “I know you BOTH wanna be your own girl.” It was one of those thrilling concert moments you can talk about for years, punctuated with a high-five photo op at the end.
Nicks continued with trunk songs from 2014’s “24 Karat Gold: Songs from the Vault,” like the bright Petty-and-the-Heartbreakers-assisted rocker “Starshine” and the seductive “Belle Fleur,” interspersed with hits like “Gypsy,” ending with one of her signature spins that drive fans wild.
With each song came a long story, about recording with Fleetwood Mac in an old French castle with no ice, or calling Prince for help on “Stand Back,” a song inspired by hearing “Little Red Corvette.” It took an hour to get his number and, because he was in LA not Minneapolis, it took less than that for His Purple Majesty to show up at the studio and add keys and guitar to the future hit.
She climaxed the 2 1/2-hour set with an enchanting “Gold Dust Woman,” complete with a frantic dance in the full-moon backdrop, and an electrifying “Edge of Seventeen,” with the guitars rumbling like propellers and Nicks spreading her vintage black cape like a nightbird.
She encored with the double Mac pleasure of a “Rhiannon” that rocked and a “Landslide” that displayed her tender touch with a ballad. For the purposes of the film, they returned to recut “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” with just Stevie and Waddy.
The 24 Karat format, and her occasional exits from the stage, surely interrupted the flow of the music (and there are bound to be complaints), but Stevie Nicks is still the gold standard, and her faithful fans got to know her a little better on Friday night.
In the end, she thanked them profusely for sitting through the stories and trunk songs, like the diva she is not.
STEVIE NICKS SET LIST
Gold and Braid
If Anyone Falls
Stop Draggin' My Heart Around
Moonlight (A Vampire's Dream)
Crying in the Night
If You Were My Love
Gold Dust Woman
Edge of Seventeen
Stop Draggin' My Heart Around