Review: Fleetwood Mac at the Prudential Center

“Why does the greatest love become the greatest pain?”

— Stevie Nicks, “Thousand Days[1]

Sometimes I imagine a parallel universe where Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham never met cute while singing “California Dreaming” together at a youth church function in 1966.  Without that moment, there would be no Buckingham Nicks album, no chiffon-twirling witchiness, no Rumours, and a lot less pain spread out over the lives of the five members of Fleetwood Mac who took the stage on Sunday night at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.  That isn’t to say that the music that poured out from the decades of fighting, jealousy, drugs, and break-ups wasn’t sublime — it has always been that and more.  But, while Fleetwood Mac’s tortured path through the pain has always been fascinating and tuneful, it has not always been easy to watch.

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So, it was with a mix of anticipation and dread that I walked into the Prudential Center to see the latest reunion of the Rumours line-up — Stevie Nicks, Lindsey Buckingham, Mick Fleetwood, John McVie, and the newly returning Christine McVie.  On the one hand, these five people have an uncanny ability to bring the best out of each other musically.  On the other hand, from their lyrics to the frequently bitter interviews they give about each other (even as 60-and-70-somethings!), it’s not always clear why — other than money — they do these reunions at all.

But, from the first guitar riff from “The Chain” to the last chord from the grand piano for Christine McVie’s “Songbird,” the concert packed in hit after hit, with one impossibly catchy tune after another.  Many of these songs were those penned by Christine McVie, easily the writer of the most accessible and upbeat songs of the Mac catalog.  From the still-impressive three-part harmonies on early hits like “Say You Love Me” and “Over My Head” to the 80s synth-sheen of “Everywhere” and “Little Lies,” McVie’s songs have always brought an essential optimism and groundedness to counteract the paranoia of Buckingham and the self-mythologizing of Nicks.

Returning to her 60s-hippie-chick ways, Nicks brought the drama, from the stare-downs with Buckingham over their long-lost romance, to the shawl-enhanced dances she performed, inhabiting the essence of the witch Rhiannon and the drug-fueled Gold Dust Woman.  Buckingham, ever the yin to Nicks’ yang, countered with his intense guitar solos, California recovery-speak, and high-energy antics on Tusk tracks “Tusk” and “I Know I’m Not Wrong,” as well as classics, “Go Your Own Way,” “Big Love,” and “Never Going Back Again.”

Since 1997’s The Dance, and perhaps for the entirety of the Buckingham-Nicks era of Fleetwood Mac, much of the narrative of Fleetwood Mac has been the story of love, hate, and forgiveness between Buckingham and Nicks.  In many ways, it’s slightly odd and unseemly that so many (including Buckingham and Nicks themselves, it often seems), have so much invested in a relationship that ended nearly 40 years ago, especially when Buckingham, by all accounts, is a happily married family man.  But, it’s also an extraordinary story, of two teenagers who met by happenstance, chased a dream, and lost each other just as they reached it.  But, in a relationship that remains prickly to this day, giving the audience the happy ending they want (and saw on The Dance and expect to see recreated night after night) can be a recipe for maudlin, choreographed “moments” (and has been, at times).  This time, though, it genuinely feels different.  The interaction between the two, especially during their duet, “Landslide,” showed a sense of pride and wonder at each others’ talents, and an appreciation of the fact that they were actually living at least some of the dreams they dreamed together so long ago.  It just may be that the self-described “problem children” of Fleetwood Mac have finally come to terms with their past personal failures, and they are able to enjoy the musical success that they did manage to find together — at least for now.

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For all of the melodrama and excess, the bedrock partnership of Fleetwood Mac has always been between its namesake founders, Mick Fleetwood and John McVie.  In many ways, the drummer and bassist are as much opposites as Buckingham and Nicks.  Fleetwood is given to velvet-breeches, red shoes, audience-grabbing drum solos.  McVie blends as much into the background as any performer can, and lets his melodic bass lines do all of his talking.  The Fleetwood-McVie pairing, however, has always provided a sound foundation for the more ephemeral stylings of the songwriters in the band, and their core connection and musical chops have not been diminished by age.

Given their history, it’s inevitable that the story of Fleetwood Mac is told through the lens of the broken partnerships that fueled their lyrics.  But, in many ways, the story of this lineup is one of the lasting musical partnership of Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie.  From their early collaboration, “World Turning” to their uncanny ability to play off of each other in “You Make Loving Fun” and “Don’t Stop,” Buckingham and McVie have always shared a musical sensibility and an openness to working together that has formed a thread unifying the often fractious output of this lineup over its five studio albums together.  While Nicks and Buckingham always seemed to draw the bile and anger out of each other, McVie and Buckingham’s collaborations are unfailingly upbeat and sunny.  So, it was fitting that it was this pair that closed the show out, with Buckingham providing gentle acoustic guitar accompaniment to McVie’s hopeful “Songbird.”  McVie once explained that she wrote “Songbird” as a love song to the band during the making of Rumours, imagining and wishing that they all could be happy.  Needless to say, as I left the concert, I shared her hope that, after all of these years, they finally were.

LC-NJ

 

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