Review: Stevie Nicks wows Toronto in four-star show
June 20, 2023 at the Scotiabank Arena, Toronto
By Nick Krewen
Heartfelt tributes to fallen comrades.
Photo: Mystical Amanda
If there was a memorable arc to Stevie Nicks’ overall performance during her two-hour concert at Scotiabank Arena Tuesday night, it was the respect and love she accorded a couple of her artist friends who are no longer with us.
The first one was a bit of surprise in terms of the amount of devotion she offered: Tom Petty, who unexpectedly left this mortal coil in 2017. Nicks referenced Petty several times throughout the evening: first through his recording of “Runnin’ Down a Dream” that blared over the speakers as Nicks and her eight-piece band took to the stage.
Then, four songs in, Nicks told a story of how Petty had “saved” the album “Bella Donna” from becoming “a flop” — as her then-boyfriend-producer Jimmy Iovine told her — by not only providing the hit “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around,” but volunteering to duet with her on it.
And, to complete the homage, for her first encore, Nicks and crew performed “Free Fallin’,” Petty’s hit from what was arguably his best album, “Full Moon Fever” in 1989.
But the most poignant moment occurred during the evening’s finale, as Nicks — doubly blessed as a solo artist and as a charter member of the most popular version of Fleetwood Mac — performed a tender, acoustic rendition of “Landslide” as candid images of her and the late Christine McVie flashed on a big screen above the singer and her accompanists. McVie, also a Fleetwood Mac legend, died last November at 79.
These acknowledgments, while emotive, are not to suggest that the Nicks concert presented to an estimated 15,000 devotees was anything but celebratory. All of her fans had a blast.
At 75, Nicks’ distinctive husky alto still delivers the goods. Dressed in a black top, chiffon skirt, leggings and boots, with her waist-length blond hair cascading over her shoulders, the only notable concession to maybe feeling a little older was that the twirling and pirouettes of earlier performances are no longer part of her physical repertoire.
Not that it mattered to her flock: Nicks has always commanded a blind adoration with her bohemian ways, from her philosophically romantic poetry to her distinctive sense of fashion.
Judging by the number of Stevie look-a-likes of all ages who came dressed in honour of their idol, that impact remains multi-generational.
Following a poised and well-received solo set from Tenille Townes of Grand Prairie, Alta. — her blazing cover of “At Last” and her original “Somebody’s Daughter,” among others, won a warm ovation — their heroine Nicks could do no wrong as she dipped into her solo catalogue and that of Fleetwood Mac. The crowd was rewarded almost immediately as the opener “Bella Donna” melted into “Dreams,” the first of five group numbers included in the 17-song setlist.
It was clear from the fact that Nicks introduced practically every song with a little story that she considers herself a songwriter first.
In discussing the inspiration behind “Gypsy,” she told the audience how the virtually overnight transition from waitress and cleaning lady to Fleetwood Mac star “weirded me out,” to the point where she instigated a ritual to ground herself.
“So whenever that would happen, I would take my mattress off of my bed frame, put it on the floor, and then I would just sit down on this bed and I would say, ‘I am still Stevie.’”
Another tale focused on politics and world concern, as she dedicated a song from her album “In Your Dreams” to embattled Ukraine.
“I wrote this song for returning American soldiers that I visited at Walter Reed hospital. When the attacks on Ukraine began, I thought these words became their words and I brought the song back. In my opinion, Ukraine is fighting for all of us. I stand for democracy. I stand for freedom. I stand for Ukraine. No surrender! This is ‘Soldier’s Angel.’”
Whether it was matters of the world or matters of the heart, Nicks and her crackerjack band — including guitarist Waddy Wachtel and keyboardist Darrell Smith — offered flawless executions of her material, with some live versions transcending their recorded originals.
One of the more amazing workouts was “Gold Dust Woman.” With Wachtel offering a splendid solo and Drew Hester hammering it out on the drums, the momentum between the five jamming instrumentalists kept building until the song exploded into an exciting climax.
The same feverish effect happened with “Edge of Seventeen”: Wachtel began with a gritty, electrifying solo that eventually morphed into the recognizable opening riffs of the tune, bringing the cheering crowd to their feet. Nicks and her backing singers Sharon Celani and Marilyn Martin then prodded each other to sing more powerfully, and the overall result was an adrenalin high for both artist and audience, one of the show’s many highlights.
An exultant “Stand Back” and a vigorous “Rhiannon” also made their way into the Stevie Nicks highlight reel — and the singer and songwriter seemed moved enough to promise there would be at least one more visit in the not-too-distant future.
“Thank you everybody, you have been an awesome audience from the very beginning,” said Nicks. “You mean so much to me. You know, I’m 75 years old. And I stand for a lot of things, as you know, but one thing, for all you women out there … if I can do this at 75 years old, you can do anything.
“Join a basketball team! Take flying lessons. So, with that little proverb from Stevie, I loved being here and I love the fact that you shared your home here with me, and we’ll be back to see you and you’re so awesome, we have to come back here and redo this, at least one more time. Thank you!”
The gratitude was palpable on both counts: an entertainer appreciative of an audience that has unquestioningly embraced her for going on 50 years and a crowd who received an inspiring performance that proved once again why Stevie Nicks will always be their “Bella Donna.”
You just know she’s going to make good on her word just for them.