The set list at last night’s Fleetwood Mac concert in Cleveland was identical to that from the band’s stop in Columbus in October.
And every stop in between, for that matter.
That was fine by the 15,000 inside Quicken Loans Arena, judging from their uproarious response to every song.
The reaction wasn’t surprising, considering the material on revue: Fleetwood Mac scored over a dozen hit singles between 1975-1987, many of which still figure into programming on adult-contemporary and classic rock radio stations everywhere (“Don’t Stop,” “Dreams,” “Say You Love Me,” etc.).
Just ask former President Bill Clinton: This is the band that doesn’t stop thinkin’ ‘bout tomorrow.
The British-American quintet dusted off all the classics during the two-plus hour marathon February 18th, its three familiar front-persons trading lead vocals (and harmonizing) beneath amber-indigo swaths of light emanating from mobile trusses (and an elaborate video screen) while their bearded bassist and stickman recreated their indelible in-the-pocket rhythms.
Given the wealth of grade-A material, there wasn’t time to accommodate musical ambassadors from the band’s early years with Peter Green (“Oh Well,” “Green Manalishi”)—nor was there need to bother with any latter-day album not featuring guitarist Lindsey Buckingham (Behind the Mask) or Stevie Nicks (Time).
Heck, the band didn’t even bother with cuts from its last studio effort, 2003’s Say You Will.
All of which is another way of saying the menu at The Q consisted only of songs recorded by the five-strong Rumours lineup of Mick Fleetwood (drums), John McVie (bass), Buckingham (guitar and vocals), Nicks (vocals), and Christine McVie (keyboards and vocals), with the oldest tunes hailing from 1975’s Fleetwood Mac and the most recent from 1987’s Tango In the Night.
No complaints here—but we wouldn’t have minded hearing a couple Then Play On-era zingers, or even a token Say You Will track (“Peacekeeper,” “What’s the World Coming To?” “Bleed to Love Her,” “Thrown Down”).
The current On With the Show tour marks Christine’s first outing with her Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1998) cohorts in sixteen years. The gig at Nationwide Arena in Columbus was the ninth stop on the “reunion” tour.
Cleveland was the fifty-eighth (!) stop, said Nicks.
Amazingly, the performances never felt dialed-in or rote: If these veterans were just going through the motions, they weren’t letting on, imbuing the up-tempo numbers with party-time zeal and physicality, and the ballads with sincerity and saccharine-sweetness. Some of that positivity could be attributed to the returning McVie, who absorbed some of the workload from Buckingham and Nicks—and seemed only too glad to do so.
Formerly known as Christine Perfect, McVie retired from marathon touring following 1997’s well-regarded television special (and live album / tour) The Dance. She contributed a “guest” vocal to Say You Will and released the solo album In the Meantime in 2004, but otherwise avoided the spotlight during her self-imposed hiatus.
McVie joined Mick and future husband John in 1970, shortly after Green left, her rollicking keyboards (sharpened in prior band Chicken Shack) complementing the guitar talents of Danny Kirwan and Bob Welch on Future Games, Bare Trees, and Penguin. Her role became more prominent in the absence of Kirwan (and Bob Weston) on Mystery to Me and Heroes Are Hard to Find, her ebullient vocals helping the band persevere until its mid-70s alliance with the California-based songwriting duo of Buckingham / Nicks.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Hot-shot guitarist Buckingham wouldn’t sign on with the Brits without his main squeeze, so he and Stevie were both accepted as a package deal for Fleetwood Mac. Their writing, singing, good looks, and contrasting personalities (temperamental and quirky vs. mystical and otherworldly) altered the band’s sound from psychedelic blues to sunny pop-rock and moody groove-tunes, resulting in a stream of accessible, memorable singles that wouldn’t run dry for another decade.
Buckingham and Nicks eventually (and famously) split. The McVies divorced, and Fleetwood juggled several affairs and infidelities after relocating to Los Angeles—and yet his band stayed together. The broken hearts and bruised emotions supercharged 1977’s Rumours, catapulting the group to mega-stardom at the height of disco and punk.
It remains one of the best-selling rock albums of all time.
Fleetwood Mac’s Ash Wednesday extravaganza reminded Cleveland why they mattered, and more importantly why they still matter. Not that anybody in this audience would contest the sales figures (over 45 million albums sold) or dispute the band’s musical muscles.
At 71, McVie looked and sounded as if time stopped for her while she was away. She genuinely seemed to be enjoying herself, making it easy for spectators to become caught up in the moment with her. Her voice was in tip-top shape (notwithstanding a crack or two very early on), empowering signature tunes like “You Make Loving Fun,” “Everywhere,” “Over My Head,” and “Little Lies.” Chris even came out of hiding from behind her Yamaha electric piano to play accordion on “Tusk,” sparring with Buckingham down front as the U.S.C. Trojans marching band blared along (2,300 miles and 35 years removed), courtesy archival footage on the massive video backdrop.
Greeting the crowd, recent Rolling Stone cover girl (Issue 1227, January 29, 2015) Nicks admitted they made a big deal out of McVie’s return on the tour’s first leg. But the “Welsh Witch” made no apologies for her enthusiasm over having her “sister” on board again.
“She’s ba-aack,” Stevie crooned.
That inclusive “We’re all friends here” vibe prevailed from the appropriately-themed opener “The Chain” through two electrifying encores.
The black-clad Nicks dazzled on “Dreams” and “Rhiannon,” twirling in place and toying with the scarves and beads draped over her mic stand. She didn’t bother stretching for some of her old high notes, but she didn’t have to; Nicks’ natural chest voice was loud and potent enough to deliver her verses.
The always-intense Buckingham fielded “Second Hand News” and “I Know I’m Not Wrong” as if he’d just been waiting for his turn, his fingers flicking over his trademark Rick Turner guitars as veins bulged from his neck and forehead in protest. “Liddybuck” scissor-kicked, punctuated the music with an occasional “Oh yeahhh!” and even barked on a couple numbers.
Silver-headed gents Mick and John still tend the band’s engine room like pros, spinning out those wonderful tight-but-loose cadences. Fleetwood seemed like a kid at his drum riser, making goofy faces and goading his peers, while unsung hero McVie (in his red vest and Converse sneakers) kept mostly to himself, thumping on his bass for “Sisters of the Moon” and “Seven Wonders.”
The inclusion of backtracks and old favorites like “I’m So Afraid” and “World Turning” compensated nicely.
Buckingham went solo acoustic on a revved-up “Big Love,” a Tango in the Night song that originally spoke to his “strong emotional boundaries,” but now revels in “the importance of change.” The guitarist concluded that 2015 marks a “poetic, prolific new chapter” for the band before he ripped into his fingerstyle flurry and impassioned ooh-aah! vocal. The lighter-hearted “Never Going Back Again” was a nice comedown.
Nicks rejoined her old beau on the eloquent, acoustic “Landslide” (her father’s personal fave) and took charge on “Gypsy” and “Gold Dust Woman.” She thanked The FX Channel’s American Horror Story for bringing Mac music to an audience of 60 million.
The video backdrop projected landscapes and artsy-fartsy images early in the show, but later carried simulcast images from the stage so folks in the nosebleeds could get an up-close look at the headliners. “I Know I’m Not Wrong” featured an illuminated red pyramid with a superimposed Buckingham leering and lip-synching along, and “Gypsy” was slotted with black-and-white crime noir shots of a damsel and her detective-looking beau. “Tusk” came with pachyderm pictures and tribal glyphs. On other songs the screen defaulted into simple—but lovely—ribbons and gradients of color and light, reminding one of the aurora borealis.
The stars were bolstered by rhythm guitarist Neale Heywood and keyboardist Brett Tuggle, both from Buckingham’s solo band (and past FM tours). Backup singers Sharon Celani, Lori Nicks, and Stevvi Alexander spent most of their time in the dark on the opposite side of the stage, their silhouettes swaying in unison on an elevated platform behind Buckingham.
The main set concluded with a rambunctious “Go Your Own Way,” but the band reemerged for the feisty “World Turning” (with built-in drum solo and band introductions) and dance-along “Don’t Stop.” Nicks beguiled with “Silver Springs.”
Then McVie kissed fans goodnight with gorgeous piano valentine “Songbird.”
The On With the Show North American tour runs through April; the band will head to the U.K. in the summer.
Nicks’s eighth studio album, 24 Karat Gold: Songs From the Vault, collects demos and oldies from the ‘70s and ‘80s. Her last “new” album, 2011’s In Your Dreams, is also worth a listen.
Likewise, Buckingham’s last three solo works (Under the Skin, Gift of Screws, and The Seeds We Sow) are excellent—and spotlight his mirthful melodies, discombobulating rhythms, crackling guitar, and manic vocals.
Mick Fleetwood’s fascinating (and funny) memoir, Play On: Now, Then & Fleetwood Mac, was published in October by Little, Brown & Company (see our review at the link below).