Fleetwood Mac appeared in concert in Louisville, Kentucky on 10th October. Personnel changes are not in short supply in the music business, and Fleetwood Mac has throughout their 51-year history been an industry standard bearer of changing musicians, musical personalities, and musical styles. The band’s optimistic Hail Mary hiring method gave us the current roster of drummer Mick Fleetwood, bassist John McVie, singer-songwriter Stevie Nicks, singer-songwriter-keyboardist Christine McVie, singer-songwriter-guitarist Neil Finn, and guitarist-composer Mike Campbell. The latter two received invitations to full membership earlier this year after the band decided to part company with singer-songwriter-guitarist Lindsey Buckingham.
The requisite hit songs are still there, but they are there with more zest and delight than in previous years, and I must say that I write this having enjoyed these same songs on many concert occasions in the previous years of tours.
Most of Christine McVie’s classics are back only since 2014, at which time she rejoined Fleetwood Mac after a 16-year retirement. I remember where I was when I first heard her on the radio singing “Little Lies” from 1987’s Tango in the Night album, and I will remember that same voice and those sounds and words when I remember “Little Lies” live in Louisville. Christine McVie’s other songs, including “Say You Love Me” to “Everywhere” to “Don’t Stop” ranged from fun and peppy to sweet and hopeful, and rare addition “Isn’t it Midnight” has the slight otherworldly vibe of “Little Lies.” All evoke the feeling of remembered experience from a time gone by.
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Neil Finn covered Lindsey Buckingham’s songs with energy and respect. Even “Go Your Own Way” – probably Lindsey Buckingham’s signature song and thought impossible to perform without the actual Lindsey Buckingham present – worked surprisingly well, was kinetic without the interpersonal tension, and was really quite fun to behold. It was helped graciously by Neil Finn’s ability to make his voice sound enough like Lindsey Buckingham’s voice to serve the song without trying to be Lindsey Buckingham. Mike Campbell’s guitar work filled the song while also being a unique sound.
Stevie Nicks has elevated “Gold Dust Woman” to performance art. At one point while she was singing, dancing, and improvising the final passages, I reminded myself, “She’s 70 years old. How is this possible?” Her other famous “character” song, “Rhiannon,” was equally hypnotic and had a mystical verve that made it a story for all time rather than simply of its time in the 1970s. Her “Landslide” vocals soared. At one point, I wondered in the back of my mind how long she was going to hold that note. How interesting that a song written about what was then the future is now a song about looking back at the past.
However, Stevie didn’t simply stick to her own work; she picked up the blues vocals for the Peter Green-written 1968 song “Black Magic Woman,” the end of which featured a jam session by the entirety of the current Fleetwood Mac, from Mick Fleetwood and John McVie, who were members from the earliest Peter Green days to the newly added earlier this year Mike Campbell and Neil Finn.
While remaining solidly Fleetwood Mac, the band has somehow incorporated new people and their music into a Fleetwood Mac context. In concert, this comes across as though they told Neil Finn and Mike Campbell, “Join us and bring your own musical worlds.”
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In this spirit, Neil Finn sings “I Got You” (from Split Enz) as a lively duet with Stevie Nicks and “Don’t Dream It’s Over” (from Crowded House) with Stevie Nicks singing a verse and backup. As oddly placed as these songs, from a distance, may seem in Fleetwood Mac, whose own musical catalogue could sustain a multi-day festival, they work because the band is allowing their style to be broad and giving all of their musicians space to bring their work into the show.
Mike Campbell, after spending most of his life creating music with Tom Petty, sings Peter Green’s 1969 Fleetwood Mac song “Oh Well,” which, circuitously, Tom Petty had covered in concert with Mike Campbell playing guitar. Lindsey Buckingham also covered “Oh Well” on Fleetwood Mac’s 2009 tour, if a band can be considered to cover its own song. Mike Campbell sings and plays guitar this time, bringing the song’s history into something of a circle.
The suddenly incomplete legacy of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers is given more dramatic remembrance with “Free Fallin,’” which Stevie Nicks, backed by all of Fleetwood Mac, though most notably Mike Campbell, sings in a full-voiced tribute and lament to Tom Petty as images of Petty’s career and friends appear on the screen backdrop. She is genuinely emotionally unhinged going into the final verse, and she channels her emotion into a musical catharsis that now is a full expression of grief, but will, I suspect, become an experience of joy by the end of the tour.
Mick Fleetwood and John McVie bring a world of musical and life experience with them. They’ve become a sort of odd couple of opposite personalities comprising one of the best and most sustaining rhythm sections in any musical genre. Mick Fleetwood introduced Fleetwood Mac’s new members, told the audience about the band’s new direction, introduced the band mid-way through the show, and closed the show with fond parting remarks to the audience. John McVie introduced Mick Fleetwood with the words, “Ladies and gentlemen, Mick Fleetwood,” possibly the first five words John McVie has said on stage since before 2003. This was a big deal, almost as much a change as having two new members in the band.
Fleetwood Mac also showcased some of their supporting musicians. Percussionist Taku Hirano, supporting guitar player Neal Hayward, and backup keyboardist Ricky Peterson all had solo parts throughout the concert. A band as big and historical as Fleetwood Mac need not highlight its background players; that they did so and allowed these musicians to shine signifies the broader spirit of welcome and atmosphere of openness they are bringing to their performances. This is a band that began in 1967, but today, they are not to be missed.
Fleetwood Mac will perform at Wembley Stadium in London in June 2019.